This is difficult to imagine, but it is true.
An aging parent begins to decline. She needs care. She comes to depend on her adult child.
Polly is 97 and has only one daughter, Vicky. Vicky moved in with her mother to become Polly’s caregiver about a year ago. Recently, Vicky apparently decided that her mother had lived long enough, and she began withholding food from Polly.
Vicky has had a troubled life, with drugs and alcohol abuse. She doesn’t have much income. Her mother’s home and assets are worth over $500,000.
Polly’s friend and neighbor noticed Polly’s weight loss. She became suspicious of what was going on and called Adult Protective Services. APS received complaints from family as well. APS got involved in the case, and forced Vicky to put her mom in a care facility. Vicky found the cheapest home she could, and delivered her mother there. Vicky is mom’s Power of Attorney and she is also the Agent on mom’s healthcare directive. In other words, she has legal control.
Polly was thin, confused and very frail. Vicky called Hospice, which began to provide care. In her neglected condition, Polly qualified as a person eligible for hospice with six months or less to live.
Vicky brought Polly to the care home without bringing any clothing for her. She told the care facility owner that her mother was dying and “didn’t need any clothes”. She forbade them to give her mom food. “Nothing but water” she said. She told them not to let Polly get out of bed. “She’s too weak”, Vicky told them. She told them not to let any other relatives talk to the doctor about Polly.
Vicky was slowly trying to kill her mother.
The facility owner, would have none of it. She also called Adult Protective Services. She was in touch with Polly’s sister, Lorna, 79, who lives out of state, but cares very much about Polly. Lorna and her daughter sent money for whatever food Polly wanted, and clothes. Both came to visit.
Then Lorna called AgingParents.com. “How can they let this woman be in charge of my aunt?”, she wanted to know. It was a good question. Trying to starve an elder is clearly elder abuse. However, we all live with the reality that this kind of abuse can go unpunished and unchanged. Massive budget cuts drastically hampered the state’s ability to stop this. This is what smaller government law enforcement programs look like. There are not enough resources to prosecute elder abusers like Vicky.
If someone is beating an elder, stealing all the elder’s money or doing otherwise dramatic things, Adult Protective Services will make those cases priorities for investigative action. They have to. In Polly’s case, she was quiet and told the investigators that Vicky was a good daughter and took good care of her. Polly didn’t want her daughter to have any more trouble. After all, the drugs and alcohol had been a lot of trouble in Vicky’s life already.
I suggested that Lorna and her daughter call Polly every day. They have done so. She is steadily improving and is now alert and gaining weight. She’s up in a wheelchair and engaging with other residents in the home. I advised them to find out if Polly was aware enough of what was going on to make a decision: did Polly want her sister to take over and help her as her Power of Attorney?
Polly did want Lorna’s help. She is not confused and is much more aware of everything now that she is eating properly and able to be out of bed. The change in her mental status has been amazing. Soon she will be discharged from hospice care. She no longer qualifies for it.
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