By Johanna Zomers

Eganville Stories Around the Patchwork Quilt presented a series of eight dramatic monologues based on true stories gathered from seniors in Renfrew County and aimed at providing awareness and advice on issues of elder abuse.

Sponsored by the Sexual Assault Centre and the Eganville Rotary Club, as part of their Speaker’s Corner which brings relevant topics to the community, the ‘difficult to hear’ tales were fictionalized just enough to protect privacy and were read by local seniors who added their own personal messages of understanding.

 “We need recognition that as seniors we are still human beings,” and “trusted friends – not always family – bring hope,” said two of the role players.

The audience at the Echo Centre, the location of the Eganville & District Seniors, was assured that counselling was available for anyone who was triggered by the stories of sexual, financial, physical or emotional abuse in the presentation.

Elder abuse often comes from those closest to the victims. Family members who have been entrusted with powers of attorney (POA) too often make selfish financial or personal care decisions. Signing over one’s home or access to finances to family members sometimes results in mismanagement or blatant theft as grown children take advantage of an elderly parent. One audience member formerly employed in banking services pointed out that local banks can be very helpful by being alert to potential fraud on a senior’s bank account.

“When my wife died, I had a really hard time for a while. My son got me to sign a POA,” wrote one senior man. “I worked hard all my life, paid for things with cash. When I went to the bank to pay my monthly bills the teller said there wasn’t enough money in the account. I asked my son and he joked that he’s just spending his inheritance early”.

An elderly woman cited having signed her house over to her son and his wife who ‘let her live with them’ while complaining that she is an inconvenience to them.

Another woman talked about being bullied and made fun of in the guise of ‘joking’ behaviour from her grandchildren who take embarrassing pictures of her and post them on Facebook. Another said she was happy her husband has passed away so he can’t hit her anymore. But now her son is physically and verbally abusive.

“Get out of my way old lady,” he says.

“Who would believe me?” said another senior woman who was coping with a younger man demanding sexual favours as payment for shovelling her driveway. “Who would believe that anyone would want sex with an older woman. It’s embarrassing and I’m ashamed to even talk about it.”

The audience’s reaction was that the lady should call the police and the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre. It was felt that the victims of the financial abuse should contact Legal Aid or a lawyer and to ask their doctor for a competency test to revoke a POA.

The sometimes discriminating public attitude toward unconventional lifestyles was also cited by one married gay couple who were urged to hide their relationship when they moved into a retirement home together. “People stare at us when we hold hands. I feel that we have to go back into the closet.”

The advice here was these are Human Rights’ issues and they should file a formal complaint.

Aside from the more dramatic issues of abuse, there are the very real and common issues around self-sufficiency.

“I’ve lost my licence and my independence,” said one widowed man. “I can’t get to the store, have to wait for the kids, sometimes I forget to eat anyway. My wife did all the cooking. I’m not Chef Boyardee, the kids cancel at the last minute. I miss my doctor’s appointments. I’ve handled life’s problems on my own all my life. Now I worry all the time.”

Those are perhaps the most easily addressed concerns in communities where local seniors organizations can deliver Meals on Wheels, provide transportation to medical and non-medical appointments, and offer friendly checkup calls. Grocery and pharmacy deliveries are becoming more accessible but the need for improved rural transportation is a key issue that isn’t being addressed by politicians.

For assistance or referral for these and other issues, call Elder Abuse Prevention and Response (1-800-363-7222), the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre (1-800-663-3060), the Victim’s Services of Renfrew County (1-877-568-5730) or the Eganville & District Seniors (613-628-2354).