It’s been just over a year since the sad end of radio legend Casey Kasem’s life.
He died last June in a Gig Harbor hospital after a long battle between his children and his second wife Jean that culminated with an altercation in a Silverdale driveway televised around the world.
Now, one of Kasem’s daughter’s has dedicated her life to trying to prevent the abuse that plagued her father’s last day as he slowly deteriorated from a condition known as Lewy Body Dementia, which left him unable to speak.
“It was horrible, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do everything I could to save him and to see him again,” said Kerri Kasem, 36.
Kasem alleges Jean began isolating her husband as he battled the dementia prior to the last year of his life, and then completely cut them off. She even denied them access, despite a judge’s order. Kerri said Jean would frequently hide Casey and move him from hospitals and convalescent facilities until they ended up at a friend’s house in Silverdale, where the family finally tracked them down. He was days from death in deplorable conditions.
“We could not save him. We did everything to save my father,” Kerri said.
Despite her grief, she vowed not to let her father’s death be in vain. Kerri formed the Kasem Cares Foundation and dedicated her life to fighting on behalf of family members who need protection from caregivers who control access to those who are ailing, and help prevent physical and emotional abuse, or even theft.
“I know what people across the country are going through, and that helpless, hopeless, angry feeling of being told you’ll never see your parent again,” she said. “It’s horrific. I had to do something about it.”
Jean Kasem was able to keep Kerri and her family away because she was Casey’s legal guardian, even though he previously made clear he wanted to see them.
Kerri drafted a proposed new law with her lawyer and a California assembly man that would make it far easier for a judge to grant visitation to family members, regardless of guardianship.
It’s been passed in California, Texas and a similar measure passed in Iowa. This week, she’s in Seattle lobbying for its passage in all 50 states at a national convention of state lawmakers.
“If you have a history of visitation and phone calls and all of a sudden they’ve been cut off and you can prove that, well hey, there should be visitation in place,” she said. “Isolation is criminal.”
While Kasem’s case got widespread national attention, similar incidents play out everyday for thousands of seniors.
Attorney Rick Gregorek specializes in estate and elder law planning, and deals regularly with elder abuse cases like Kasem’s.
The host of KIRO Radio’s Your Partner in Law says the numbers are staggering. Even worse, just one in 14 cases of elder abuse are ever reported, only one in 25 cases of financial exploitation. He says it’s far too easy for abusers to force those in their care into signing over all their money or property, often threatening to withhold food, medicine or other necessities unless they give in to their demands.
And he says it’s often a series of abuses.
“There’s isolation, which is almost always present, there’s mental abuse, undue influence, neglect and financial exploitation, so in most cases it’s a package,” Gregorek said.
The problem continues to get worse as our population increasingly ages, Gregorek said. Though 65 percent of cases involve family members, he’s seen plenty of others take advantage of the elderly.
“Attorneys, CPAs, financial advisors, trust companies, guardians,” he said. “I had one where it was a clerk at the 7-11. I’ve had a postal carrier was an abuser. It’s everywhere.”
So what should you or your loved one do? Kerri says most important is to get wills and estate plans in order, with specific wishes spelled out.
“You need to write ‘I want my children to be around me, I want visitation with my children, if anybody tries to stop it they’re out of the will’ or whatever you need to say,” she said.
Kerri also advocates videotaping the person detailing their desires as additional support, so a caregiver can’t claim an ailing loved one changed their mind about seeing other family members, like Jean Kasem did with her dying husband.
“Everybody deserves to see their parents. And every single ailing parent deserves to be surrounded by love and their family, if that’s what they want,” Kerri said.