Life in the Recovery Room

How to heal, grow, and prosper in challenging times.

There's No Excuse for Elder Abuse

It's important to speak up. That’s the only way to break a cycle of abuse.

There's really no such thing as the "voiceless."   There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard. ~ Arundhati Roy

The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that one to two million Americans over the age of 65 has experienced some form of abuse at the hands of a caregiver. Exact figures are hard to come by, because many incidents of abuse go unreported

“Respect your elders.” That’s what I was told for as long as I can remember.  In some families and cultures, this common courtesy is still practiced and bestowed on those who have much to teach us from the benefit of their life experience.

However, society as a whole in the US today seems to care little for the lessons learned and wisdom earned from those who came before us.  Ageism is alive and well.  People are disposable and our seniors, in many ways, are treated like collateral damage.  The world has changed and continues to change at a pace that can overwhelm the most energetic of us. 

Times are tough.  Who would have thought that there would be a month devoted to National Elder Abuse Awareness or a government agency keeping track of the ways and means of abuse and the statistics of the problem?   Elder abuse comes in many forms and sizes. In addition to physical, verbal, sexual, and emotional abuse, mistreatment can include neglect, exploitation, and abandonment. Make no mistake, as well, often the “bruises” cannot be seen when it comes to mistreatment around financial exploitation and so many other ways of taking advantage of our seniors.  Is it really human nature to victimize the most vulnerable and powerless among us?

Caring for a sick or frail senior, on top of everything else isn’t easy.  The glass of wine you drink to “unwind” becomes a bottle.  You may take a pill to relax or sleep and end up feeling groggy or foggy as you begin another day.  So begins a vicious cycle of dysfunctional coping.  This is not the way to deal with feelings of anger, frustration and despair.

Is it any wonder that so many are doing so much to curb the aging process? No one likes getting old, sick, slow, or having to be dependent upon others, but preventing these things is like trying to stop waves from crashing on the shore. 

Through no fault of their own, many seniors become frightened, unwilling participants in the cycle of elder abuse.  Seniors are easy prey for phone and internet predators and scam artists, who may even be family members.  Targeted because they are lonely, overly trusting or incapacitated, their property and other resources can be depleted or wiped out. 

Unfortunately, conditions and methods of abuse in many assisted living and long term care facilities are just as fraught with danger. We must call it out wherever and whenever we suspect it.   If you suspect that an elderly person is at risk from a neglectful or overwhelmed caregiver, or being preyed upon financially by anyone in their life, it’s important to speak up.  That’s the only way to break the cycle of abuse.

I invite you to celebrate and value the “older adults in your life during Elder Abuse Awareness Month and beyond.  Talk to them.  Find opportunities to meaningfully connect with them.  Cherish them.  Try smiling and saying “Hello” to a senior you don’t know; knowing that they are not invisible could make their day.  Who knows, one day that senior could be you!

Treat seniors as you want to be treated. Most elderly folks don’t have the energy or arrogance of youth, yet many of them still convey a life force that transcends the notion of “age” as a bad thing.

For those who simply want to understand what being “young at heart” entails, here’s your take away; try living the slogans, “Let peace begin with me” and “Live every day as if it were your last”.

James Huysman, PsyD, LCSW, is a leading authority on caregiver burnout, compassion fatigue and related addictions. Aside from his blog here, he writes a behavioral health column for Florida MD.

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