Iris’s Story – When Those you Trust Abuse that Trust

Elderly woman crying
photo credit: Shutterstock

Iris* is 80 and lives in a rest home.  She contacted Age Concern because she had some concerns about her finances.  This was the phone call they received from Iris.

“I don’t want to make a fuss, and I certainly don’t want my son to find out I’m asking questions, but I am worried about what’s happening to my money.  Can you help me without telling my son what you are doing?”

Age Concern made an appointment to see Iris the next day.  Iris said her husband had died ten years ago and she had been living alone in her New Lynn house.  After a bout of illness her son suggested she consider selling and moving into a rest home.  Iris agreed and gave him Power of Attorney to sell her property and organise her finances, as she "just didn’t feel up to it at the time”. The money from the sale of the house was deposited into Iris’s bank account.

Iris was by this time living in the rest home not very far from her son’s house.  Iris has other children but for various reasons, they are no longer close, and she became very dependent on her son for social outings and general care.  He would visit Iris on a regular basis, taking her to appointments and once a week on a Saturday morning for breakfast at his house with the grandchildren.

Iris told us at this first visit that he had told her not to worry about her money.

“But what if something happens to him? I won’t know what’s going on with my finances”.

Iris started to get niggles of concern when he would not tell her how much the house had sold for.  Would not tell her how much was in her bank account.   Would not give her any pocket money to buy coffee on rest home outings.  She had noticed his wife seemed to be wearing a lot of new clothes.  The niggles became a major concern when one Saturday morning, Iris saw her unemployed grandson had a brand-new car.  The next day Iris contacted Age Concern because “I just knew something wasn’t right”.

Iris wanted the investigations into her finances to be done without her son knowing.

“I don’t want to ruin our relationship, particularly if there’s nothing going on," she said.

“I mean, I could be wrong about all of this”.

The news was not good.  Over a period of four months (since the house sale), Iris’s son had withdrawn more than $250,000 from her account.  Iris was shocked and felt betrayed by her son. The first week after discovering the theft, Iris did not want to involve the police because she did not want to lose the relationship with her son.  However, by the second week, Iris had processed her emotions and she had become emotionally stronger.

She told Age Concern that she wanted to go to the Police.

"I know I won’t get the money back, but I want to say that what you did to me, your mother, was wrong," said Iris.

After losing her money, Iris needed the Government Residential Support Subsidy (RSS) to assist with rest home fees.   If she had not lodged the complaint with Police, RSS would have rejected her application and classified the money that went to the son as a gift. Therefore, in the end, Iris had no choice but to lodge the police complaint.  Charges were laid against her son for ‘Theft in a Special Relationship’. The son has had no further contact with his mother, and she misses him.  The loss of social connection with him has taken a toll on Iris’s health.

This story is not rare or unusual - if you see the signs that an older person may be having difficulty, speak up. These are some signs to look for:

The following signs MAY indicate an older person is being abused:

  • unexplained behaviour, sleeping or eating habits
  • withdrawal and/or edginess
  • fear of a particular person
  • confusion
  • unexplained injuries
  • drowsiness (due to over-medication)
  • recoiling from touch
  • unusual withdrawals from bank accounts
  • unpaid bills, lack of money for necessities.

It is crucial that we are all aware of the warning signs of Elder Abuse, so we can intervene if we are concerned.

Age Concern Auckland works alongside other agencies such as health services, needs assessment services, the police, banks, residential care facilities, iwi and other community agencies, to ensure the best possible outcome for the older person/kaumātua. You can speak confidentially to the Elder Abuse Team at Age Concern Auckland by calling one of the three offices.

Central & West Auckland – 09 820 0184

Counties Manukau – 09 279 4331

North Shore – 09 489 4975

Outside of Auckland, call 0800 32 668 65.

*Iris's name has been changed to protect her privacy.