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Crimes and Generations, or How We Throw Our Elders Out With the Bathwater

By Dave R.

April 19, 2012

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Statistically, we're much less likely to grow old with a partner, or a loving family, or good friends of the same age and it is more likely that we will live alone. Imagine the situation then, if you end up in a nursing, or care home. You bring with you a disease (however manageable); its by-products and a past that doesn't conform to the norms and maybe only one or two surviving acquaintances to keep an eye on you and you'll be cared for by strangers! That's an alarming enough scenario but when you then read about what goes on in more of those institutions than you would imagine, you can only shudder at the prospect.

GLBT people are notoriously reluctant to face their futures beyond sixty, let alone discuss their old age with others but with the improvement in health care for people with HIV, very many of us are going to be living a normal lifespan. Furthermore, during the past thirty years, HIV has created an enormous 'live for the moment' feeling amongst a community that was just glad to be alive and that feeling was reinforced by our narcissistic 'eternal youth' culture. Nobody ever really reckoned with HIV+ senior citizens clogging up the welfare systems but they'll have to now!

The bubble of HIV+ pensioners hasn't reached the elderly care systems yet: after all, HIV only struck thirty years ago but it soon will and then social systems across the world will be stretched even further and one may assume that the present culture of neglect and discrimination will only get worse.

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As I'm rapidly approaching the age of dependency, I found it a pretty scary thought that I may end up in just such a situation myself. How on earth have we let this get this way!

More Information: LGBT Elders: Domestic Violence / Sexual Assault Resource Sheet (PDF)

Now I'm not one for creating ghettos of any kind but I am one for creating sanctuaries, for the vulnerable. Nursing, care and family homes should be precisely that; a safe place to live and enjoy the last years of your life. The fact that they're frequently semi-prisons, where inmates (I choose my words carefully) are bullied and intimidated and physically neglected or abused makes me scared, ashamed and angry at the same time.

In our own community, you could argue that our elders, having won gold medals for getting there, are more vulnerable than any heterosexual and non-HIV counterparts. Many were forced to live their early adult lives in secrecy and became accustomed to discrimination and stigma. When you're forced to live on the fringes, you learn not to stick your head above the parapet and not to make unnecessary waves. Finally, when it seems okay to be the person you were born to be and okay to live with a disease that's not your fault in your old age, you now run the risk of being tossed into the care home closet, with all its secrecy and dangers. Shame on us too, if we let this happen without safeguards!

"Sure I'm for helping the elderly. I'm going to be old myself someday." ~Lilian Carter

However, don't imagine that the LGBT community will necessarily rush to support its weakest links. There are ostriches who bury their heads in the sand amongst us too and just because you're gay, or HIV positive doesn't qualify you for automatic sainthood or a social conscience. I suspect that if you asked the average twenty-something gay man or woman about this subject, you'd find they aren't really interested in the plight of 60-plussers -- they don't even want to think about it because that would acknowledge their own mortality! That said, I didn't either when I was that age: forty seemed like the end of the world, never mind sixty! We're going to have to educate them then, because mobilization is essential before this evolves into a sort of unofficial ageist-cleansing. Telling youngsters that they'll be old themselves someday just isn't going to hack it I'm afraid but publicizing the plight of elder abuse victims and relating it to their own parents and grandparents just might!

Let's look at the facts.

The following quotes reveal the probable extent of the problem and although these are American statistics, non-Americans will find that the figures in their own countries are generally comparable. It seems that in the societies of 2012, 'silver' has gone up in price but down in value.

  • "According to the best available estimates, between 1 and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection." (Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation in an Aging America. 2003. Washington, DC: National Research Council Panel to Review Risk and Prevalence of Elder Abuse and Neglect.)
  • Estimates of the frequency of elder abuse range from 2% to 10% based on various sampling, survey methods, and case definitions. (Lachs, Mark S., and Karl Pillemer. October 2004. "Elder Abuse," The Lancet, Vol. 364: 1192-1263.)
  • Data on elder abuse in domestic settings suggest that 1 in 14 incidents, excluding incidents of self-neglect, come to the attention of authorities. (Pillemer, Karl, and David Finkelhor. 1988. "The Prevalence of Elder Abuse: A Random Sample Survey," The Gerontologist, 28: 51-57.)
  • Current estimates put the overall reporting of financial exploitation at only 1 in 25 cases, suggesting that there may be at least 5 million financial abuse victims each year. (Wasik, John F. 2000. "The Fleecing of America's Elderly," Consumers Digest, March/April.)
  • It is estimated that for every one case of elder abuse, neglect, exploitation, or self-neglect reported to authorities, about five more go unreported. (National Elder Abuse Incidence Study. 1998. Washington, DC: National Center on Elder Abuse at American Public Human Services Association.)

More Information: Fact Sheet, National Center on Elder Abuse: Elder Abuse Prevalence and Incidence (PDF)

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HIV, Neuropathy and More: Avoiding Becoming a Nervous Wreck


Dave R.

Dave R.

English but living since 1986 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. HIV+ since 2004 and a neuropathy patient since 2007. I've seen quite a bit, done quite a bit and bought quite a few t-shirts if you know what I mean; but all that baggage makes me what I am today: a better person I believe, despite it all.

Arriving on TheBody.com, originally, was the end result of getting neuropathy as a side effect of the medication, or the virus, or both. I found it such a vague disease and discovered very little information that wasn't commercially tinged, or scientifically impenetrable, so I decided to create a daily Blog and a website where practical information, hints, tips and experiences for patients could be gathered together in one place.

However, I was also given the chance to write about other aspects of living with HIV and have now contributed more articles about those than about neuropathy. That said, neuropathy remains my 'core subject' although one which unfortunately dominates both my life and that of many other HIV-positive people.

I'm not a doctor or qualified medical expert, just someone with neuropathy and HIV who has spent the last few years researching the illness and trying to create information sources for people who want to know more.

I also have my own personal website and write for PositiveLite.com.


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