Not really a light-hearted subject, but I believe it to be an important one, nonetheless — abuse of the elderly! I tend to think of this subject as referring to old ladies getting beaten up in the street and having her handbag stolen by some gang of cowardly youths; or a pensioner who has his home invaded, again by thugs, who hit him then steal his most important memories, like wartime medals, and any cash he might have lying about the place. But of course, abuse of the elderly goes way beyond these simple, if distressing, examples, with surprisingly, a lot of abuse being perpetrated within the elderly person’s own family, in particular adult children. Let’s have a look at a few examples.
There’s the son, who convinces his mother to give him power of attorney over her bank account, “So that I can look after paying your bills and you won’t have to worry about them”. Then he milks the account until there’s nothing left, and ceases to do anything more for her at all, leaving her at best broke, at worst deeply in debt! That is abuse of the elderly!
Another example would be the son who convinces his mother to go into a nursing home, and as soon as she is in there, he sells the home she has been in for years, so that even if she dislikes the nursing home, she can’t go back to her old, familiar surroundings. That is abuse of the elderly!
Then there’s the daughter who takes her mother shopping every week and uses Mum’s credit card to also buy all her own purchases. That is abuse of the elderly!
It’s clear from the above that one of the major causes of abuse is money, but this is only the tip of the iceberg! I’ve already touched on actual physical abuse, but there is also psychological, emotional, social and sexual, all of them just as abusive as getting hit or robbed.
An example of psychological abuse would be a situation where either a relative or a friend or neighbour, do all they can to convince the elderly person that he/she is inadequate and mentally unable to look after themselves, until they eventually begin to believe what is being pumped into them all the time and they allow the ‘friends’ to take over their life more and more. It gets to a point where they find themselves having to ask to go to the toilet, or the shops, or their church. This can lead to a life of total and complete distress. That is abuse of the elderly!
Emotional and social abuse is rather similar to psychological abuse, in that the stress is being placed on the mind of the individual, rather than anything physical. There are no bruises to be seen, no cuts or scratches, but friends might notice a change in the person’s demeanour, or signs of not caring, like lank or dirty hair and clothes that have obviously been worn much longer than they should without washing. The tendency is to look on these clues as signs of incompetence in the person, and often it is, but careful and kind questioning can often show the difference between natural ‘decay’ and a state of mind brought on by external pressure. Sexual abuse is I think, self-explanatory, and is obviously one of the most distressing things that can happen — to anyone, not just the elderly.
I have to say now, loudly and clearly, that I am no expert in any of the situations mentioned above, but I think I have a fairly average amount of common sense, coupled with the experience of my advancing years, as do many readers of Starts at 60. I feel it is beholden upon us to try to keep a quiet eye on neighbours or friends, looking for possible symptoms or lifestyle changes. Bear in mind that there are many government and council authorities whose sole purpose is the care and protection of older people, from the local health service, with its ‘Elder Abuse Officer’, right up to, in extreme cases, the police. I am very sad that there are so many older people suffering in silence, simply because they are not aware of what there is out there, to help them. Perhaps we can help!