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Loneliness has been identified as a risk factor for financial elder abuse, including telemarketing scams, securities fraud and predatory marriages. Some research suggests that lonely older people may be more susceptible to financial scams because they are more willing to let strangers into their home or talk to them on the phone, sometimes just for conversation’s sake.

As reported in The New York Times, for example, a 92-year-old male telephone scam victim lamented, “I loved getting those [telemarketing] calls,” and “[s]ince my wife passed away, I don’t have many people to talk with. I didn’t even know they were stealing from me until everything was gone.”

Several strategies aim to prevent and alleviate loneliness among older adults, thereby potentially lowering one’s risk for abuse. However, many interventions have limited or unproven effectiveness. This is particularly the case regarding lonely older men. For instance, the limited research on pet-based interventions (e.g., pet therapy and pet ownership) suggests that the furry programs may be more suitable for women than men.

Further, some social activity and group-based programs have met disappointing results. Recruitment—especially of men—is frequently a challenge. In a recent Ontario pilot project, 89 percent of participants were women. In research examining “why older men appear to eschew traditionally run organisations specifically geared for older people,” the authors suggest that clubs aimed at older adults should be more congenial for older men, such as having a snooker table or offering wine and beer with lunch. Program designers must also overcome men’s tendency to exhibit less help-seeking behaviour.

Even some programs for women experience low turnout. A Dutch loneliness study reports a situation where no one showed up for a widows’ social skills training session. This was despite promotional activities, such as advertisements in newspapers, flyers and local information booklets.

Another popular strategy is to encourage lonely (and isolated) older adults to volunteer. But as Robert Weiss wrote in 1973, “Not only is random sociability no antidote to loneliness, but under some circumstances it can exacerbate it.” Similarly, in 2011, Emily White observed, “A lot of lonely people have tried volunteering—which, many stress, can leave them feeling doubly alone.” Regarding older men and volunteering, Mike Jenn, chair of the UK Men’s Sheds Association, stated:

"Men are programmed to believe they can look after themselves. They don’t directly see that their life could be enriched by being with others so they end up hiding away watching TV. If you want a man to do something, don’t ask him to volunteer, tell him there is a problem and it needs fixing."

Men’s Sheds are described as the modern version of “the shed in the backyard.” The program started in Australia, and is gaining popularity in the UK. In the sheds, men might be found restoring furniture, fixing bicycles, making bird feeders, maintaining lawn mowers, learning to cook for themselves or learning how to contact their families by computer. Others might just come for a cup of coffee. The sheds give men a safe and busy environment where they can find a sense of community and connection to friends “in an atmosphere of old-fashioned mateship.”

Financial abuse prevention programs that miss key vulnerable groups may have particular ramifications for some older men. Securities fraud prevention programs provide a good example. Among older adults, the main victims of securities fraud are financially-literate, college-educated married men with a “very self-reliant and self-deterministic” personality. Yet arguably, these men are the least likely group to attend and internalize fraud prevention workshops. Add loneliness into the mix, and the older men may be at particular risk of becoming scam victims.

Therefore, when developing loneliness interventions and financial elder abuse prevention programs, consider taking innovative and non-traditional approaches that might appeal to lonely older men. Otherwise, our strategies might continue to overlook this vulnerable and at-risk group.


DSC00659Heather Campbell is a Master of Laws student at the University of Saskatchewan. She previously practiced elder law in Vancouver, B.C.
You can follow her on Twitter @SeniorsLaw

-This post is adapted from a draft paper by Campbell.


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