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Elder abuse is a hidden but growing problem in Oamaru. A victim shares his story with Oamaru Mail reporter Gus Patterson.

Abuse is not something that happens overnight – and it can happen to anyone, “Allan” says.

The 78-year-old Oamaru man, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is getting his life back on track after a horror couple of years of financial, emotional and physical abuse.

For Allan, it all started when his wife developed dementia and was moved into a rest-home.

The couple had decided to move to the North Island to be closer to family.

They sold their house in Oamaru, and planned to give half the money to a daughter to help her with her mortgage. The rest was for Allan and his wife to live on.

“She wasn’t in deep dementia at the time and so I was able to have a proper conversation with her. She agreed that would be a good idea,” he said.

Allan moved to the North Island and started setting up for their new chapter.

Then plans changed.

When he called his wife to check in, she told him she thought they should “call it a day”.

Allan alleges she was talked out of moving by a friend, and was instructed to cut all ties with him.

He later discovered the friend had informed his wife’s family, who lived overseas, that Allan had abandoned her, and they took the money he was expecting to live on.

Allan was left in a new town, with a lot less money savings than he had budgeted for.

Allan said his wife was fully entitled to half the value of the house, but he did not believe she had made the decision on her own.

Moving in with his family was also not as straightforward as he had hoped.

They started asking him for grocery money, then demanding larger amounts.

He complied, feeling like he had no choice.

“I was getting so stressed out I was in and out of hospital like you wouldn’t believe,” Allan said.

“I’ve been a fit person all my life and I’d never been in hospital. It was absolutely devastating.”

Eventually things came to a head and Allan decided to move out, which led to an altercation with his daughter.

“She got violent with me. She punched me, twisted my arm.

“I was just a total nervous wreck.”

He went to the doctor and told the nurse what had happened.

Within three minutes of being called, a representative was there from Age Concern who helped Allan move his belongings into a hotel.

Over the next few months, he stayed with one of his sons before moving back to Oamaru.

“It has certainly made me a poor man,” he said.

Allan had always liked to be independent, and when asked why he did not ask for help sooner, he said “it was quite embarrassing, frankly”.

“It’s a gradual process and when it really got serious that’s when I opened my mouth,” he said.

“It gradually eats away at your mental capacity and your confidence.”

Reaching out for help was what broke the cycle of abuse, he said.

Allan is being supported by Age Concern in Oamaru and other members of his family.

He has started painting again, and is writing his life story, which includes tales of solo adventures around the world.

Age Concern Otago elder abuse response worker Heather Johnston said Allan’s case was not uncommon.

“You are seeing various layers of abuse going on here – financial abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse,” she said.

“Every other abuse within the tactics of the power and control.

“It’s just that gradual erosion.”

A lot of elder abuse was committed by members of the person’s own family, she said.

“It’s that entitlement that we talk about – ‘I am going to get it one day, I’m going to get it now’.”

In many cases, such as Allan’s, the money from financial abuse was not recovered, she said.

“It’s very hard to take your own child through court, let alone the cost of it.

“It’s the best silencing tool in the world, it keeps all our beautiful vulnerable people silent.”

It was too early to know whether the Covid-19 lockdown has prompted a rise in elder abuse, Ms Johnston said.

There had been no increase in referrals, but Ms Johnston said that did not mean it was not happening.

“We haven’t got eyes and ears going in to the homes because many of the agencies are shut down  – these are the people that a lot of referrals come from,” Ms Johnston said.

She suspected people in abusive situations would not say anything while the abuser was in the household with them.

Neglect could also been an issue on the rise, Ms Johnston said.

“We won’t know until after we are way past this.”

Ms Johnston is continuing her work for Age Concern Otago from home and urged anyone to report elder abuse to her by calling 027 231-4880.

“And if you feel in real danger don’t hesitate to call the police, they will definitely respond,” she said. “Our police force here are amazing when it comes to any form of family harm.”