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Loneliness, Grief Leave Seniors Vulnerable To Opportunists

In Local News on July 22, 2011 at 7:55 am

By Gery L. Deer

Deer In Headlines

Sometimes life takes unpredictable turns. Adjusting to those changes can be daunting. As friends and family pass away, many people are left alone, a single voice of a generation with no one to talk to. Experts suggest that isolated seniors can become inappropriately, even romantically, attached to caregivers, neighbors or friends who offer a shoulder to cry on or those needing the kind of care and support once given to a spouse or children.

Grief, loneliness and stress can interfere with normally sound judgment. Vulnerable and often depressed, senior citizens can easily fall victim to opportunistic individuals who seek only to take advantage of their kindness.

Unscrupulous people will abuse the misplaced affections of a senior citizen manipulating them with big sad eyes and a long sad story. The individual accepts the senior’s offer of gifts, money and other tokens of adoration; small gestures at first that grow more elaborate. Some reports conclude that seniors have been convinced to sign over financial powers of attorney, real estate and other holdings.

When concerned family members confront the senior about the situation, it can be a conversation that rapidly deteriorates into an argument. Pushed too hard, he or she may be driven deeper into depression and anxiety, generally becoming even more susceptible to outside influence, possibly even cutting ties to family in an effort to maintain the outside relationship, albeit unrealistic.

Inconsiderate and uncaring of the damage that can befall a family in these circumstances, the self-serving outsider may provide a comforting ear; enforcing the idea that the children are jealous, controlling or wanting to keep the parent from going ahead with life.

It will be virtually impossible to convince the senior that the outside individual has ulterior motives for the relationship. He or she may have to come to the realization on their own, but that may happen too late – after the bank account has been bled dry or vital resources have been depleted. So how does a family cope with this kind of problem?

Every situation is unique, but family members should be mindful of some telltale signs that their parent is involved in a dangerous relationship. Here are some questions to consider.

Are the bills falling behind? If access to the information is available, are account balances suddenly shrinking at the bank or increasing on the credit cards? Does the senior frequently do chores or run errands for the outsider?

Does the senior avoid answering questions about money or does he or she get angry or defensive when queried about expenditures or unpaid debts? Does the senior place an irrational level of importance on the outsider ahead of themselves or family?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, there may be cause for concern and family members should first try talking. As stated before, arguments solve nothing, so don’t push, try to help the parent see that you understand their feelings and are merely showing concern for their security. Begin by talking with the family doctor or clergy.

Depression is often a prime factor leading to these types of attachments. In cases where the senior has had to deal with the death or lengthy illness of a spouse, geriatric psychologists suggest individual or family grief counseling. It’s also helpful to get the senior involved with activities, groups or organizations in which he or she has a common interest with others of similar age and background.

For those adult children facing this situation, be diligent but understanding. A helpful ear and sympathetic heart will go a lot further than a loud, accusatory voice. Remind your parent that, though you are not in their shoes, you both walk the same path.

For the parents, perhaps you should at least try to listen to concerns expressed by your adult kids. It might be a good idea to remove the rose-colored glasses for just a moment and see the situation from their point of view. If their concerns are unfounded, what do you have to lose by taking a closer look at it?

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