In 1962 Joan Crawford and Betty Davis co-stared in the movie “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” The movie is about two elderly child stars who live together. Crawford is in a wheel chair and she tries to get back at Davis for causing a car accident that leaves Crawford in a wheel chair. In one scene between the sisters one serves the other’s pet bird for dinner. The brilliant acting of two of Hollywood’s greatest icons causes the audience to forget that what they are seeing on the screen is elder abuse.
Old age is a difficult time for many people, a time of failing health, reduced income, the loss of a meaningful role, or the death of loved ones. These problems can create great unhappiness for older people and can damage relationships with spouses and children. In extreme cases, this damage can lead to abuse.When we do hear about elder abuse we hear about it in the context of institutions rather than families. However elder abuse in the home happens far too frequently. Experts say one source of elder abuse is poor quality long term relationships, a carer’s inability to provide the level of care required, a pattern of family violence exists or has existed in the past, a carer has mental or physical health problems, or the social isolation of a family member.
Abuse within a family situation can be the most challenging to address and requires a mixture of tact, sensitivity, understanding and actions. It is often difficult for an older person to believe, or to admit, that they are being abused by a member of their own family. Elder abuse happens because of the abuser’s power and control over an older person. In some cases, it may also be linked to an abuser’s drug or alcohol problem,history of anti-social behaviour, or mental health problems. Abuse is more likely to happen when the family is going through a period of high stress, including the stress of looking after the older person.In some cases, the elder abuse may be part of a cycle of violence in the family. The person who abuses an elderly parent might have been abused by that parent. The elder abuse could be a form of “getting even” with the parent for past wrongs. This abuse may remain undetected because the abuser may not allow people to visit or talk to the older person. In addition, the older person may be isolated from the community, social services, and even from other family members.
The list of signs that one should look for if you suspect elder abuse is shocking and is inclusive of the most severe forms of elder abuse. The signs of elder abuse is not exclusive and perhaps may never be as obvious as the these that I will share. For physical signs of elder abuse look for bruises or grip marks around the arms or neck or rope marks or welts on the wrists and/or ankles. Also repeated unexplained injuries is another possible physical sign of elder abuse.Unfortunately there are those who sexually prey on the elderly. Obvious signs of elder sexual abuse maybe unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding or torn or bloody underwear or bruised breasts or buttocks. Another not so obvious indication of elder sexual abuse are unexplained venereal diseases or vaginal infections. And often times the abuse is not physical, instead it can be financial. In this case look to see if elder’s life circumstances match his or her known financial assets. Look for all of large withdrawals from bank accounts, accounts that have been switched; unusual ATM activity and signatures on checks don’t match the older person’s signature. In many cases elder abuse does not occur as overt physical, sexual or mental abuse but in terms of neglect. Look for a lack of basic hygiene, adequate food and water, or clean and appropriate clothing. Look for weight loss or general unexplained physical deterioration. Finally elder abuse may occur in the form of failure to supervise. An instance of this kind of neglect is when a person with dementia is left unsupervised.
The elderly are fragile often times across the board of life. Let us as a culture begin to care for our elderly. They have cared for us.
The Addict Writes