Tuesday, 05 July 2016 10:48

Elder Abuse: The Silent Phenomenon

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IMAGE Elder abuse Woman facing wíndow

On a few occasions, I have watched on Facebook a short YouTube video by the Greek film Director and Producer, Constantin Pilavios. It is a conversation between an adult son and his elderly father called “What is that?”1 The gist of the story was that when his father asked what the bird was, the son said it was a sparrow. After the father asked the third time, the son was so agitated and shouted to the father. The father then took his old diary and asked the son to read it aloud. The son read the part where he, as a 3–year old boy, asked his father twenty-one times about the name of the bird, a sparrow. His father wrote that he answered each time he asked and gave him a hug. This story almost always touches people’s hearts.

I immediately recalled this video when we had “World Elder Abuse Awareness Day” a few weeks ago. It aimed to highlight abuse of elders. Does it actually exist? Nobody seems to be talking about it. We always hear about child abuse, domestic abuse, sexual abuse and other types of abuse. Elder abuse thrives because people are silent.

There are a few types of elder abuse:

1. Financial

This is one of the most common forms of abuse that the elderly face. Unfortunately, this situation happens usually with family members. When an elderly parent dies, that is when the abuse is discovered.

When my grandfather passed away, my father and his siblings found out that one of his brothers quietly sold the sugar plantation hectare by hectare. After the funeral, my father collected his share of less than a hectare as whatever was left was divided among the nine (9) children.

According to Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ, “the stories of abuse are as broad as they are distressing. But distasteful though they are, they form another facet of the way aging is experienced in society. As with other forms of domestic abuse, financial abuse is protected and allowed to flourish most effectively by silence. To be aware of it and to keep it before our eyes is the first step in preventing it.”2

2. Physical / Health

Fr Hamilton went on to say that “many elderly people are ill, have lost their partners, live alone with little connection to their families, suffer from incipient dementia, and are dependent on others for their daily business of living.”3

However, many of their children or relatives are unable to comprehend the weight of the confusion they are experiencing. My husband is currently receiving around twenty-five phone calls a day from his mother. She is slowly going deeper into dementia and could not remember what happened to her a few minutes before. She had to call her son to check out what happened to her or if she had told him to remember something such as where she kept her purse.

I must admit that sometimes I could not comprehend or accept the commitment, patience and understanding that my husband shows to his mother. She is one of the blessed ones as she has a son that is totally dedicated to her.

3. Social

The elderly, especially in developed countries, are left on their own by their children. This is exacerbated when they are unwell and live alone. They feel extremely lonely yet unable to reach out to others during this time in their lives.

Due to their changed behaviour towards others, some relationships are being crippled. My young sons are now finding it difficult to adjust to the temperaments of their grandmother. She easily gets irritated and emotional. This behaviour alienates her from her grandchildren and consequently decreases the amount of time she is able to spend with them.

She also brings out some of her hidden hurts in her younger days. By blurting them out, people get offended and eventually avoid being near her.

4. Psychological

There are many situations in which the elderly could be taken advantage of due to their confusion and psychological state. It is therefore necessary for us who witness those events to seek out help for them.

“The United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 66/127, designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It represents the main day in the year when the world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted on older people.”4

In Australia, “the day is about all of us working together to bring greater recognition of the mistreatment of older people wherever they live, and to highlight the need for appropriate action.”5

At a meeting with grandparents and elderly people in St Peter’s Square on 28 Sept 2014, Pope Francis said: "Violence against the elderly is inhuman... just like it is against children. God does not abandon you, He is with you!”

He added that "A people that does not care for its grandparents, that does not treat them well, are people that have no future!”

Pope Francis then asked Christians to work towards a more inclusive society, that does not throw away the weak. He also reminded them of the good the elderly do in society.6

At his general audience in St Peter’s Square on 4 March 2015, Pope Francis reflected on the need to respect and care for the elderly. Despite their physical limits, he said that they should not be forgotten or set aside. Using strong words he reminded the audience: "It's ugly to see the elderly being discarded. It's ugly and it's a sin.7

Then, on 5 March 2015, during an audience with the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, Pope Francis reflected on caring for the elderly. He said that "People will always be precious beings, despite being afflicted by old age and illnesses. People are in fact, a natural treasure for themselves and others. They are loved by God.”

He continued that “the most serious disease and the greatest injustice an elderly person can experience is abandonment. Especially since their children owe them so much.”8

And during this Jubilee of Mercy, on 15 Jan 2016, Pope Francis visited a home for the elderly as part of his "gestures of mercy.” He visited these people to "highlight, against the throwaway culture, the importance and value of old people and grandparents, as well as the dignity and value of life in every situation.”9

And just a few weeks ago, Pope Francis mentioned in his prayer intentions video another challenge that humanity faces and his intention of finding solidarity for the elderly, sick and marginalised.

“A 2014 study conducted by the United Nations World Urbanization found that about 12 percent of the global population are seniors (age 60 and older). Many are displaced and die each year from starvation and other physical or mental illnesses than any other age group. That number is expected to double to 20 percent by the year 2050. As time progresses and the world’s population continue to age, global homelessness, hunger and displacement are becoming a growing concern.

The Pope is promoting awareness to a population that is largely sidelined by a majority on an international level.”10

There are organisations in Australia that help prevent elder abuse. In addition, there are places where the older members of society, especially those who are alone, can reach out to others or be involved in many social activities.

However, the elderly must also have the desire to go out and reach out. Fortunately, our community is always seeking ways to make life easier for our older members. But, we all need to be aware of what is happening to them each day. Let us not be silent witnesses of elder abuse. Remember, “there is no excuse for abuse.”



1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNK6h1dfy2o
2 http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=49520#.V3X4UaKQEa4
3 ibid
4 http://elderabuseawarenessday.org.au/about-weaad/
5 ibid
6 http://www.romereports.com/2014/09/28/pope-francis-at-meeting-with-the-elderly-oeviolence-against-the-elderly-is-inhuman
7 http://www.romereports.com/2015/03/04/pope-ignoring-the-elderly-is-not-only-ugly-it-is-also-a-sin
8 http://www.romereports.com/2015/03/05/pope-abandonment-is-the-most-serious-ailment-for-the-elderly
9 http://www.romereports.com/2016/01/15/pope-francis-makes-a-surprise-visit-to-an-elderly-home
10 http://www.romereports.com/2016/06/11/united-nations-study-about-12-percent-of-the-global-population-are-seniors-aged-60-and-over