By Mieka Bledsoe, MS, LMFT , Program Supervisor, Safe Options for Seniors
Robert is a retired educator with two masters degrees. He never could have imagined that he’d be a victim of elder abuse. Especially, after witnessing his own grandfather being a victim of abuse. Robert swore that would never happen to him.
Robert endured manipulation and abuse for years from one of his sons who had slowly taken more and more control away from Robert. Some of the abuse was physical, such as throwing items at Robert and shoving him. But other tactics were subtle, like when his son installed a keyless entry system and a smart heater in the home, ways that his son would control his father’s environment. After his son, who lived with him, changed the entry code to the house, he locked Robert out when he did not have his car keys or cell phone, leaving him without access to any help.
Robert found himself feeling trapped and helpless, a distressing situation that challenged his sense of safety. Wanting to protect his son and maintain a relationship, Robert didn’t ask for help, but he steadily began to grow isolated with no access to resources or help..
Robert’s story serves as a poignant example of the realities of elder abuse. Older adults are a vulnerable population that far too often are taken advantage of by the very people they love and lean on for support.
Technology is just one aspect of control that can be used to manipulate elders. Finances are another. Unfortunately, we often see how caregivers, family members and loved ones use manipulation to gain access to an older person’s bank or financial information and take advantage of them.
It’s important to remember that elder abuse can present itself in multiple forms, like physical, emotional, financial, neglect, sexual, abandonment, and isolation. Additionally, victims of elder abuse may be reluctant to seek out help, especially if the person abusing or manipulating them is a relative or loved one. This creates a complex situation where the older adult may try to protect the abuser and want the abuser to get help instead of being punished, or may not understand that what is happening to them is considered abuse.
Robert explains, “A parent never stops being a parent. Even when you experience abuse, you still want to protect your child. I was stuck and didn’t know what to do. I needed an advocate.”
As the program supervisor for our Human Options’ Safe Options for Seniors service, I work directly with older adults to meet them where they are, whether they are seeking legal advocacy, or taking steps to heal emotionally through counseling or group therapy.
When Robert came to us, he joined our group counseling program where he was able to learn about the forms of elder abuse, the impact of family violence in later life, and how it may be present in his own life. He later joined individual counseling, where he could discuss his circumstances and get the support and therapy he needed to heal. He also received legal advocacy when he was ready to take action and get the protection he needed.
Although Robert was hesitant to take action at first and unsure of what his next steps should be, Human Options provided him with a safe space to learn about his options, create a safety plan from the abuse, and ultimately set him on a path to healing through therapy and emotional support.
Unfortunately, Robert’s story is a familiar one. Late life family violence is a reality for many vulnerable older adults. We have invested in empowering a team of dedicated advocates and therapists to help older adults understand the signs and circumstances of abuse, and connect them with others who understand their experiences and provide support and resources throughout their entire journey.
If you know someone who is a victim of elder abuse or late life family violence and would like to receive assistance through counseling, legal advocacy, or group therapy, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at 877-854-3594. One of our trained advocates is here 24/7 to listen and provide guidance.