What can I do to protect my mother and her finances from her abusive husband?

Oooh asked...

My 74 yr.old mother has lived in an emotionally/financially abusive relationship with my step-father for 51 years. The toll has been both mental and physical. This past year she has developed "Altzheimers" like symptoms. I went to see her doctor with her last week and the doctor has requested additional testing by a Neuro-Psychologist to rule out depression-induced memory loss, which can be treated. After the appointment with her physician, my mother was explaining to my step-father, at his request, what the doctor had told her. At the very mention of the word "psychologist" he flew into a rage. Mom was crying and very upset. I told her husband that he needs to treat her with love, kindness, and respect, so he yelled at me too. I phoned both of my siblings that evening to tell them that we needed to discuss this situation and decide how to best support our mother. They both refused to discuss it with me and do not want to do or say anything that would offend my father. They are taking money from both parents and don't want to jepardize this situation. I feel that my father needs to leave the home, at the very least. Mother is confused and unable to clearly understand what is happening to her, but she has said she would like him to leave for a few months. What can I do to protect her and secure her finances from the grip of my step-father and siblings who are helping themselves to her money?

Expert Answer

Jonathan Rosenfeld is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco.

Based on the information you've presented, you have a most urgent situation on your hands. It's critical to get your mother evaluated by a Geriatric Neuro-Psychologist immediately. Delays might diminish your mother's prognosis and potentially extend her suffering unnecessarily. While this is not my specialty, it's my understanding that there are some medications and treatments which could dramatically improve your mothers quality of life.

If your mother has remained in an "emotionally and financially abusive" relationship for 51 years, it's unlikely at her age and in her diminished capacity that she will make any dramatic changes in her life at this point, so your opportunities to help her will probably be limited. You also indicate that you're going up against three people who benefit from your mother's diminished capacity. Given the complexity of relationships, there is probably plenty of room for your siblings and step-father to rationalize "leaving well enough alone." If you have to rely on persuasion, or your mother's efforts to change the situation. it sounds like you can't expect much success.

If you believe that your mother is truly being abused, you should contact your county department of protective services immediately. Your Area Agency on Aging should also be able to tell you about elder abuse services in your region; check out our local eldercare directory  for contact information.  It might also be a good idea to consult a lawyer who specializes in elder law for guidance. 

Before you take any of these steps, you need to prepare yourself for the reality that you will probably become a scapegoat: other family members are likely to reject your efforts, and even to  limit your contact with your mother. If you go forward you will need a lot of support. You might want to speak to your clergy if you belong to a congregation, or seek out the help of family therapist. Best of luck!