Monday, May 2, 2016

As We Age by Melinda Curtis

I often blog about light-hearted topics, but today (after much internal debate), I thought I'd blog about something more personal on the off-chance that it might help someone else.

My father died in March. He was 90. He'd served in the military, been a teacher, and then for most of his life a lawyer operating his own practice. He was a self-motivated, independent businessman who owned houses in three states as well as a 20-unit apartment complex. Dad loved family and never missed spending a holiday with one of his kids or grandkids. He had six children, 12 grandchildren, and 14 great/great-great grandchildren. Dad was a bit of a ladies man, having been married three times (and separated often, because...you know...he liked the ladies). If he was a character in one of my books, he'd be more likely to hang out with the ladies than the guys, would never have met a stranger, and have a booming, infectious laugh. He also had dementia for the last decade.

About 10 years ago, I began to notice Dad's memory was going. I'd take him to the doctor or to a grandchild's basketball game. On the drive home, he'd recount the events to me as if I hadn't been there. He began to forget names and how to navigate to places. I chalked it up to old age. Then in 2012, he got really sick and spent two weeks in two different hospitals, followed by a 6-week stay in a rehabilitation facility. Since I was already his power of attorney, I dove into the stack of bills (for those 3 homes) on his kitchen table. He was behind three months on some bills and had paid other bills three months out. There was also a notice from his accountant that he'd overpaid his tax bill by $40,000. I "assumed" he was doing things in ramshackle fashion in order to keep up with his busy lifestyle. I organized all his bills and began paying them online. Please note: these are all signs of old age AND dementia (toss a coin as to which one any doctor might attribute it to).

While Dad was in rehab, he and I talked about "getting real." He lived 90 minutes from his closest relative and three hours from me (the relative with the most flexible schedule to take him places). Dad would not consider giving up his independence and moving in with me or into a retirement community near me. One of his lady friends, who was a part-time nurse in her late 50s (let's call her Marie) and who my dad sometimes referred to as his girlfriend, approached me about creating a care network for Dad. Essentially, a rotation of four women to care for him in his own home. This was a blessing, I thought. In reality, my dad and I were the perfect marks for what law enforcement tells me is becoming a very common crime.

Within a year's time, Marie had convinced Dad that three members of our family had abused him and that he was better off not seeing any family members anymore. None. At least, not without her permission and supervision. She told me that she had "dirt" on me and my husband that could send us to prison. Funny how she told me this while Mr. Curtis was working at a public school on the brink of bankruptcy and looking for a new job.

I was replaced as his power of attorney by an attorney who was an acquaintance. I tried calling and emailing, but this attorney said that Dad did not have dementia and was very clear about how he wanted to live. I tried calling social services, but Marie was a volunteer there and they told me she wasn't the type of person to lie. I consulted with a lawyer, who advised me that proving an adult is under the influence of another adult and has dementia is a crap-shoot and liable to cost $50,000 or more. He said these cases get ugly and she seemed like the kind that would go for the throat. Given I had three kids in college to support and a husband in the public eye (looking for work and vulnerable to accusations of abuse of anyone), I chose my family over the fight for my dad. After all, I couldn't prove he had dementia and he'd always been an independent guy who liked to be with the woman he liked to be with. Maybe I was wrong.

Over the next four years, my father's calls were screened. Family would arrange for visits and when
they arrived there would be a note on the door that they'd forgotten a doctor's appointment (on a Saturday?). The man who used to call his children and grandchildren weekly, and see at least one branch of his family 1-2 times every month, no longer saw anyone. He spent his holidays alone. Dad called my daughter in the middle of the night several times during that first year of his estrangement asking where she was. And then the calls stopped. I stopped calling because he'd never return my calls (I'm sure Marie wouldn't let him call me). My niece and sister stopped calling because when he did call them back, he'd say, "I love you." Then there'd be a pause and they'd hear him say, "How was that?"

One of my sisters was probably not considered a threat by Marie. She managed to arrange visits 1-2 times a year. During those visits, he'd softly cry when she said goodbye and say he wanted his family back. Marie would always say everyone was welcome to come visit. In March, my sister was visiting when Dad took a turn for the worse and was hospitalized. The family rallied and most of the 32 family members were able to see him in the days before he died.

Marie tried one last time to banish me. I walked into Dad's hospital room and laid my hand on his foot while the nurse was trying to get him to swallow his pills. She went out to get something and Marie turned to me and said, "Melinda, last night your dad signed a document that said he no longer wanted to see his family. There was no coercion." I stood my ground, because I'd had a long talk with his power of attorney, who had no idea that family was not being allowed to visit (fyi: isolating a senior is a crime - in my mind, so should lax powers of attorney). I reported her statement to the attorney, who checked with the hospital. No such document had been filed. And since one of Dad's diagnoses was dementia, it would have been illegal at that point. Do you know what he said to me? If Marie does anything like that again, she's gone.

Sadly, in the 10 days Dad was in the hospital, the doctors treated family as if we were only there at the end for money. On his dying day, the hospital staff told the family they had to leave for an hour to give Dad's caregivers a chance to say goodbye (despite his granddaughter and great-granddaughter arriving at that time - the caregivers were given precedence). As we began the chore of going through Dad's possessions, neighbors would stop by and tell my husband and my sister-in-law how good the caregivers were to Dad and how uncaring the family was (perhaps if we showed them the bed restraints and photos of the marks on Dad's arms, they might have changed their tune).

My sister-in-law is a chaplain with a sheriff's office. She and my brother are spearheading an investigation. Police detectives in three different counties are interested in pursuing the case. Sadly, they tell them that they are seeing cases like this more and more frequently - not just from friends or caregivers isolating the elderly, but from a relative isolating them from the rest of the family. It's a drawn out process, but if you have documentation and witnesses, you can prove abuse and people like Marie cannot inherit anything from the estate (yes, Dad left Marie $30,000).

I'm not telling this story to get your sympathy. I'm telling this story because the laws need to change. I'm telling this story because you need to watch out for your parents AND you need to tell your children about this. Prepare them to be aware of the warning signs of dementia so that you won't be taken advantage of.

36 comments:

  1. As you know, I had been aware of your father’s condition and that he passed away, but I had not known about the details. I am so sorry to learn of the circumstances. Although, sadly, I am aware of what lengths criminals will go to for self-gain, I am horrified to learn how she/they took advantage of your father’s declining mental state and the resultant impacts on you and your family. My heart goes out to you, Melinda…

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    1. Thanks, Kate. I'm hoping my story can help someone in this situation or help prevent others from being in this situation.

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  2. I'm so sorry to hear the "rest of the story," but am grateful to you for sharing it. It is painful enough to grieve loss without grieving the circumstances of it as well.

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    1. We are never given more than we can bear, Liz

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  3. Mel, I knew about his dementia, but not about the insidious crime you and your family have been dealing with. I'm so, so sorry. Taking advantage of someone like that is so evil. And thank you for sharing your experience and helping to create awareness. I've noticed those early signs of memory loss with my parents and now, more than ever, am glad that they'll be moving closer to us this year. Really scary stuff. Hugs for all you're going through and for your loss.

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    1. You both mentioned something that actually becomes a problem in so many families, the fact that most of us are spread out and little can be done about it.

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    2. Yes. The fact that we need to move for jobs or that our loved ones want to retire far away from their family is an issue

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  4. Mel, I had only recently heard that you'd lost your father, but now seeing the circumstances it's so terribly sad and horrible. The fact is, since our area is a huge retirement spot, in the last year our newspaper and TV news has been full of similar stories. And caregivers claim to not have any idea what happened to jewelry, etc that families claim their mother or grandmother had in her home. Because people have gotten so independent (and that's not bad) they depend less on family as they age. And like Liz says, we're so spread out. I hope you can get to the bottom of the situation. We'll all be thinking of you, and praying so.

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    1. Ah, yes, Roz. A pearl bracelet that was my step-mother's and his wedding ring were missing.

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  5. Oh, Mel. You have my sympathy - or empathy - whether you want it or not. I'm sure there's a special level of hell for people like Marie who come into your situation with a promise of help and then use it for their own gain. How awful that your grief has to be complicated by such awful stuff. My mother always used to say, "God never sleeps." Marie and her band will get theirs. On the plus side - how generous of you that you continued to care after what must have been a challenging relationship with a father who 'loved the ladies.' Now God's caring for him, and, hopefully, the law will take care of the rest of it. Thank you for sharing. I'm sure that wasn't easy.

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    1. Thanks, Muriel. I had the pleasure of telling Marie at the end that she'd have to atone for her behavior in front of a higher power than the police.

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  6. I sympathize with what you went through. I live in a retirement community with a facility for those with dementia a few hundred feet away on the facility’s campus. I hope you’re able to get some justice and stop these people who are so destructive. The people around me live in their own apartments and have the security of knowing help is available with the touch of a button.

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    1. Oh, Marion. I tried to move him into a place like that, but he wanted his house and his space. The sad thing about dementia is that you can be so sane and comprehensive one moment, but be so vulnerable the next

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  7. Melinda,
    I'm so sorry you had to go through all this. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

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  8. How sad, but more importantly, brave, of you to tell your story. I'm sorry you didn't get to spend quality time with your dad in his last years. Hopefully something can be done about those who took advantage of him, as well as for other seniors all across the country. It is certainly a wake up call as our parents get older. Thanks for sharing Mel.

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    1. I know, right? Totally blindsided us

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  9. Thank you for sharing. I never cease to be amazed at how low people can get. And yes, one day she will have to answer to a higher power, but I also hope she has to answer to the law here.

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  10. Wow, Mel, I had no idea! Thank you for sharing, I know it was hard, and you're right, we do need to be aware of how our elderly are treated.

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  11. Thank you for sharing your father's story with us, Mel. I'm so sorry for what you and your family had to endure. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

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  12. It's unbelievable that people will prey on the most vulnerable like your father and separate them from their families just when they're most needed. I'm glad you were able to say goodbye. My mother turns 90 this summer and we live far away so it's a worry. Prayers and hugs.

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    1. Thanks, Beth. My mother is 90 and clear as a bell. Pity the fool who tries something like that on her! (knock wood)

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  13. Oh, Mel. My heart breaks for you. My brother and I hired a caregiver for our mom at home. The woman "decluttered" the house for her, including many items that I'm sure she took home with her. At one point I brought any items of value, among them Mom's rings, to my own home for safekeeping. Didn't tell the woman. When I did, she acted relieved. "Oh, I was so worried, wondering where the jewelry had gone." Yeah, right. Why was she in that drawer? And as you said, she too isolated my mother. I sincerely hope Marie gets her comeuppance--in spades--both from the law and from above. Hugs. You've been through a lot.


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    1. Ugh, Leigh. So sorry to hear about your experience.

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  14. Diseases like this are so insidious with the damage the do, both to the one suffering from it and those around him. So sorry you all had to go through this Mel. You're one of the strongest people I know...thank you for sending up the warning flare for others. Hugs. <3

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  15. I'm so sorry to read this, Mel. Praying for you and your family. Dementia is hard enough to deal with without people taking advantage. I hope the investigation progresses swiftly.

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    1. They tell us it is a long, slow process, and the detective has many cases :(

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  16. This breaks my heart, Melinda! I am so sorry this happened to your family. I had no idea that there were people out there willing to do this to someone! I guess I should have suspected since people with dementia are so very vulnerable! I will say a prayer and hope for justice. xoxo

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    1. I'll take all good thoughts and prayers, Amy

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  17. This hurts my heart. I can't imagine how you feel.
    Thank you for sharing this with everyone.

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  18. Going through something similar now with my Mom's estate and how she was treated by her 2nd husband - who has alienated 3 of her 4 children and given all her belongings to others or women's shelters!

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  19. Thank you for your strength in sharing this tragedy for your family. Those "caregivers" should be treated as criminals and held accountable. My dad lives alone thousands of miles away from me and my sisters and because of your post, I'm going to be vigilant. Thank you and God bless.

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