“Honour thy father and thy mother: that their days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” —Exodus 20:12
We hear shocking reports about child abuse and spousal abuse almost daily. Alarmingly, there is another despicable type of abuse that is horrifyingly widespread in the U.S. but little reported: Elder Abuse. Abuse of those who may be vulnerable, perhaps physically isolated or lonely, yet, deserving of the care and support in their senior years which the Bible makes clear is due them.
Sadly, society rarely views our elderly as “elders” (i.e., higher in rank, superior, wise, influential member of a community). Hollywood more-often-than-not casts the aged character as the object of general mockery. Combined with deteriorating morals—Hollywood again playing no small role—and long-term middle class economic stagnation and decline, elder abuse has reached epidemic proportions.
Longer lifespans and lower birthrates have resulted in almost as many Americans over 85 as under age 5. Therefore, the magnitude of elder abuse will continue to grow.
To give an idea of the prevalence of elder abuse, let’s compare its statistics with those on child abuse. We’re told 3.3 million (of a total of 74.3 million) children were subject to at least one child abuse report in 2015. Meanwhile, experts surmise that 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 has experienced some form of elder abuse. Because elder abuse is severely underreported—approximately only 1 in 24 cases reach authorities.
The response to the epidemic of elder abuse by our lawmakers, “journalists,” and academicians leaves one both flummoxed and furious. In the last two decades, government funded reports repeatedly found attention to elder abuse severely lacking. A National Research Council panel formed in 2003 to examine elder abuse concluded, “little is known” of the “characteristics, causes, or consequences, or about effective means of prevention” of elder abuse. That shocking conclusion, however, did not sound the alarm. Over a decade later, The Elder Justice Roadmap report admitted that the “knowledge base” on elder abuse “lags decades behind” child abuse and spousal abuse.
Professionals working with seniors remain uneducated or poorly educated on the topic. The field of elder justice still has yet to define what comprises a successful intervention on behalf of a senior which, as an attorney, I find particularly galling. The mainstream media could warn and educate, but does neither. We are left to accept that with baby boomers now entering their 70s, our commitment to eradicating elder abuse is still woefully decades behind enters the 80s—the 1980s.
I still vividly recall cases from my years of legal practice which involved elder abuse. My thought then is the same as now, “What sick individual would do this?”
In dealing with my own grandparents’ issues, I experienced many situations I’d never before considered. Had I been better prepared, could I have looked after them more effectively? I do know that taking just a few moments could help protect a lovedone from elder abuse—in whatever form.
So, what is elder abuse? While numerous definitions exist, I find The Elder Justice Roadmap report’s definition the most complete:
“Physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, as well as neglect, abandonment, and financial exploitation of an older person by another person or entity, that occurs in any setting (e.g. home, community, or facility), either in a relationship where there is an expectation of trust and/or when an older person is targeted based on age or disability.
Who could be so evil as to perpetrate this abuse? These inhumane perpetrators can include adult children, spouses, family members, friends, in-home caretakers, staff at nursing homes, assisted living, and other facilities. While abusers can be either gender, most are often male. In almost 60% of incidents, the perpetrator is a family member—two-thirds of whom are the adult child or spouse of the victim.
What are the warning signs? These can be items such as bruises, bed-sores, social withdrawal, marked emotional change, and unexplained lack of funds. To spot the warning signs, however, it’s crucial to maintain regular contact.
Additionally, be aware of the following: Women who live alone are at greater risk. A senior citizen who receives at least one telemarketing call per day is three times more likely to fall victim to fraud than one receiving such calls infrequently.
Early reports of elder financial abuse were believed to account for $2.6 BILLION yearly in funds misappropriated. Then, however, True Link Financial published a more comprehensive report. The dollar figure? $36.48 BILLION! Of that total, $6.7 billion is attributed to family, friends, or paid caretakers taking advantage of a trusting senior citizen. The Apostle Paul said that “the love of money is the root of all evil.”
Most disturbing of all, $16.9 billion results from exploitation by businesses, individuals, or charities using pressure tactics or confusing “fine print” to trick seniors into financial pitfalls. Our lawmakers must address this with the greatest urgency as almost half of all elder financial abuse is TECHNICALLY LEGAL!
In other cultures, the elderly are venerated for their knowledge and wisdom. Elder abuse must become a regular talking point. Part of honoring our mother and father has to include our being their advocates.
Order Your Copy of the EXPLOSIVE 60 minute Program Our Elderly: A National Treasure Not a Cash Crop, on TAPE or CD, and you will receive a free copy of the extensive article written by Dr. Steve on this topic. (NOTE: Audio and Report NOT SOLD SEPARATELY)
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