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What One Brandon Woman's Story Teaches Us About Elder Abuse

The Tampa Bay Times recently penned a story about a Brandon, Florida woman who was forced by her son into a guardianship. If you have not read the recent articles about a the 92-year-old woman fighting her guardianship, we suggest doing so before reading this blog.

According to Florida Courts, “Florida law allows both voluntary and involuntary guardianships. A voluntary guardianship may be established for an adult who, though mentally competent, is incapable of managing his or her own estate and who voluntarily petitions for the appointment.” Essentially, anyone in the state of Florida can nominate someone for a guardianship, and it takes effect quite immediately. At first, it is temporary, and then then the person who allegedly needs a guardian undergoes three examinations to determine if it is needed permanently.

In this case, Christine Lagisquet’s son alleged that she was mentally incapacitated. This story has quickly become a local case study on how harsh Guardianships are and the increased need to look out for the elderly in our community.

1 in 10 people over the age of 60 are abused, neglected, or financially exploited, according to the National Institute on Aging.

As mentioned in the Tampa Bay Times Article, “Guardianships are particularly common for older adults with severe dementia or other cognitive impairments. A 2018 AARP analysis estimated that 1.3 million adults in the United States are under guardianships. Eighty-five percent of them are over age 65.”

While guardianships are meant to protect vulnerable people, just like other well-intended aspects of the law, put in the hands of the wrong individual, guardianships can be quite abusive.

Wards like under guardianships can lose the right to marry, vote, travel or have a driver’s license. They also lose the right to decide where they live, how they spend their money and what doctor they go to (Orlando Sentinel).

Though we don’t as a society always see elder populations as marginalized people, perhaps it is time we reframe the narrative and take another look. Just like other marginalized people groups, elderly people experience significant barriers when it comes to breaking away from abuse.

They include but are not limited to:

  • Social isolation of the victim.
  • Fear of experiencing shame and embarrassment.
  • The victim might be in denial that they are experiencing abuse, or unaware that what they are experiencing is abuse or neglect.
  • Generational values can lead a victim to believe that what they are experiencing is normal, or a “family problem” not to be shared with community service providers.
  • In some cases, the victim is dependent on the abuser for care and they are threatened with the loss of their independence if they report. When there is no one else to provide the care the elder requires, the threat of having to change their living situation is quite real.

Abuse of elderly populations is often rooted in ageism, which is prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age.

In the situation of 92-year-old Christine Lagisquet, people vouched for her, arguing that she has no need for a guardianship. Also, she was able to quickly hire legal assistance, petitioning to take her case to court, and is fighting to get her guardianship removed before it becomes permanent. Not everyone is able to do this or knows how to navigate the legal system so they can seek help.

Her fate, however, is still being decided upon. In the meantime, Lagisquet is responsible for paying over $700 a day for her guardian.

This case begs the question, how often does this happen without the public knowing about it? And what can we do to help?

Here are ways YOU can help:

  • Use your platform to address shame and stigma surrounding the reporting of elder abuse committed by adult children.
  • If you have an older adult in your life that you are worried might experience something like this talk to them and educate them on what constitutes elder abuse.
  • Act and offer support earlier when there is less likelihood of adverse consequences.
  • Educate yourself on the unique characteristics of the parent-child relationship and the way they can affect an older person’s ability to seek help.
  • Visit this link for more information on the Guardianship Improvement Task Force in Florida.

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