Seniors’ Month in Ontario is at its mid-way point in June and we are encouraged this year to celebrate Seniors Making a Difference. Sadly, it only takes one or two pieces of news, like rocks thrown at a window, to shatter the glass and make us turn our heads. These are familiar hard rock crimes – elder fraud and elder abuse. One such in the news this week came from British Columbia, where a man who was a caregiver to a 91 year-old woman, stands accused of having stolen $270, 000 from her bank account.
However, I choose not at this occasion to write a dissertation on the subject. There are enough resources and news feeds that can enlighten us all as to these crimes, and that is what they are – crimes. I personally had to step in some years ago as a Power of Attorney for a woman in her mid-80’s, who had been ripped off through a telephone fraud scheme, and as I was helping her through that experience (with police involved), I reflected constantly about what a responsibility it was to be put into a position of trust.
With this in mind, I want to make the case here about how important it is, early on as you age, to adopt an alert, responsible mind-set to take on the role of personal advocacy, for yourself as well as others. This also means setting up an advocacy plan should you not at some point, for whatever reason, be able to speak for yourself. Depending on the dynamics of your relationships, family and friends, it may not always be the usual cast and crew that end up down the road being part of your sustainable plan.
Personal advocacy as a team approach
Frequent reassessment of who is in your trusted advocacy network is as important as revisiting the content of your will, your named executor and powers of attorney. It’s also a good idea to assess your relationship with your financial planner. My colleagues Mary Ellen Tomlinson and Marie Howes will have more to say about this. But I’ve seen enough in several circumstances to know that the people you might have initially asked to be part of your advocacy team, formally or informally, at some point either end up being not who they appeared to be, change their minds about their commitment , move away, or die.
There are so many unbelievable twisted story plot lines in elder abuse and thus the vulnerability of an elder person is at risk whether under the roof of the family home, or in the one room chambers of a long-term care facility. If you are the advocate for someone else, elder or otherwise, it is a monumental responsibility.
With respect for privacy information and confidentiality in mind, your consistent visibility, research, inquiry and transparency by sharing information with others about what you are doing in your role are, in my mind at least, the very essence of the personal advocacy role.
We do have all sorts of public educational resources available in Ontario, such as the Elder Abuse Ontario Safety Line, yet I wonder, what would it take to create a core curriculum in schools for Gerontology & Personal Advocacy for Elders, much the same way we have with sex education and other social issues?