Seniors are sometimes ripped off by relatives. *iStock photo
Seniors are sometimes ripped off by relatives. *iStock photo

FRIDAY, NOV. 25: Seniors are vulnerable to being ripped off by carers or even family members, a psychologist warned yesterday.

Robyn Montarsolo, a former KEMH employee who now runs a private practice, said: “I have definitely come across this sort of thing a lot more frequently.

“I have seen a number of people for assessment to determine their capacity to make decisions, including financial decisions, and whose families are concerned that they are being taken advantage of either by other family members or other individuals.”

Ms Montarsolo was speaking after Gaynette Holder, 50, who was convicted of swindling a 98 year old man out of $32,000, was allowed to pay back just $6,000 of the cash to the estate of the man, who has since died.The Royal Gazette reported that Holder, of Park Lane, Pembroke, served eight months of a one year sentence and was ordered to pay back the full amount of cash cited in the indictment. But an appeal court, after hearing that Holder herself was suffering financial hardship, reduced the amount she had to pay back.

Ms Montarsolo said: “I hear about theft of this kind of thing on a regular basis — it happens, not necessarily because a person has cognitively deteriorated, but because of undue influence.

“People can be manipulated and threatened — others take advantage of their mental state and social isolation. Older people may become depressed and agitated and become easier prey for the unscrupulous.

“Sometimes the victims just don’t realise what is happening to the them until it is too late.”

Ms Montarsolo added that existing laws to protect seniors needed to be strengthened.

She said: “I’m not sure that the prevalence has gone up — we may just be better at recognizing it and becoming much more aware of the risks. It would be good to review the legislation and see what other precautions we can put in place. My understanding of the legislation we have at the moment is that it’s about registering people who have been abused, rather than prosecuting and convicting those guilty of abusing seniors — but I’m not a lawyer.”

But she added: “We can do better at protecting people and acting proactively, as well as addressing any abuse which is happening.” Ms Montarsolo, who runs the Equilibrium psychology practice on Bermudiana Road, Hamilton, is also the chairman of the Bermuda Psychologists’ Registration Council.

She said family members were often reluctant to admit to themselves that elderly relatives had become vulnerable to abuse and theft by people who sought to gain their trust.

She added: “Family members often don’t recognise when seniors do have cognitive issues and they’re not able to manage their own affairs any more.

“That makes older people more vulnerable to exploitation – but people often don’t want to believe that family members are losing their abilities.

“At the very least, they should get them assessed to make sure they can carry on their affairs, which they may be able to do. At least they will get a baseline to measure them against. Even if it’s not dementia or mild cognitive impairment, cognitive impairment is a red flag for dementia.

“Although that doesn’t necessarily mean they will go on to develop dementia, it can mean that they are increased risk of being exploited and abused.”