Here’s a confession for you – I’m a wimp. One of the changes that has occurred as I’ve aged is an abhorrence of abuse so strong that I can barely read stories of such acts, whether deliberate or “merely” neglectful, against anyone or anything – children, elders, animals, even entire populations as in Iraq, Afghanistan and some African countries.
I quickly turn the page when, for example, National Geographic publishes photos of birds and seals caught in oil spills. Lately, reports of people being evicted from their homes leave me distraught. Just the headline of a recent story about a beaten and starved child was enough for me to click to another page.
That I apparently have no control over my reaction doesn’t make it less stupid. It is important to bear witness to wrongs that are perpetrated as much as it is to help when possible. I’m telling you about this because I suspect it accounts for the fact that in all the years of the existence of Time Goes By, I have never before written about elder abuse. I think about it, but I haven’t been able to dwell upon it long enough to write.
It is time to rectify this omission and when better to begin than now. Let’s start with a definition. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines elder abuse as
"a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person."
There are many other, more detailed definitions and this one, from the National Committee For the Prevention of Elder Abuse is typical:
“…any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to an older person. It is generally divided into the following categories:
Physical abuse is physical force that results in bodily injury, pain, or impairment. It includes assault, battery, and inappropriate restraint.
Sexual abuse is non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an older person.
Domestic violence is an escalating pattern of violence by an intimate partner where the violence is used to exercise power and control.
Psychological abuse is the willful infliction of mental or emotional anguish by threat, humiliation, or other verbal or nonverbal conduct.
Financial abuse is the illegal or improper use of an older person's funds, property, or resources.
Neglect is the failure of a caregiver to fulfill his or her care giving responsibilities. Self-neglect is failure to provide for one's own essential needs.
Among the results of elder abuse are loss of homes, life savings, health, dignity, security and independence. Some studies have shown reduced life expectancy and sometimes elders are killed through abuse. A recent story from California reports the arrest of 20-year-old Cesar Ulloa, a former employee of an assisted living facility:
"Investigators allege that [80-year-old Elmore] Kittower was abused for months prior to his death. Ulloa allegedly attacked Kittower numerous times. The elderly former engineer suffered several rib fractures and other injuries, said the District Attorney's Office.”
- - KTLA, 6 October2008
In another California case, a preacher will be sentenced in November in Stanislaus County after being convicted of murder:
“A jury convicted [Doug] Porter in August of murdering 85-year-old rancher Frank Craig in a car crash to cover up the embezzlement of more than $1.1 million of the elderly man's life savings. Porter also was convicted of elder abuse causing death and theft from an elder by a caretaker.”
- - SF Gate, 22 October 2008
Don’t think that it is only hired caretakers or nursing home attendants who commit these crimes. Sometimes it is relatives. In a particularly gruesome case, a mother and son are accused of cremating the woman’s 84-year-old mother in a barbecue pit:
“[Fifty-year-old Kathleen] Allmond and [30-year-old Tony] Ray then cremated Ramona [Allmond]'s body by burning in continuously using olive wood from the surrounding orchards for up to 17 hours, said TSCO.
"’Kathleen allegedly made a necklace for herself with a portion of her mother's skull, which she wore around her neck,’ Hosler stated. ‘She posted a photograph of herself wearing the necklace on her MySpace page.’
“During the ensuing months following Ramona's death Allmond and Ray continued to cash the deceased monthly PERS retirement and social security checks, according to Hosler.”
- - The Mercury News, 22 October 2008
Elder abuse statistics are hard to come by because it is notoriously under-reported. Estimates of numbers of victims range from more a million people 65 every year to nearly two million.
Child abuse gets a lot of publicity, but there is less recognition and coverage of elder abuse. It would do us well to remember what Pearl Buck wrote in My Several Worlds:
“Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.”
This post is only a beginning which will be supplemented in more detail over time. Meanwhile, here are some resources for further information:
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Tom J. Mariani recalls his days as an apprentice pressman in San Francisco in It's Not the Same That It's No Longer Green.]