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

By Dave R.

April 19, 2012

Internet links shown in these posts are designed to provide more detailed information if required.

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The American Psychological Association's (APA) office on Aging, defines elder abuse as:

"... infliction of physical, emotional or psychological harm on an older adult."

But that definition doesn't really show the huge range of elder abusive behaviors. Bullying alone can take so many forms and physical abuse and neglect are multi-faceted. Furthermore, abuse is not confined to care institutions. According to the APA, by far the most abuse cases take place in the domestic home and environment. Often the perpetrators of abuse are family members or 'close family friends'.

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Now most governments rightly raise their hands in horror if children are abused and have amended their laws accordingly but at the other end of the humanity scale, there are very few regulations strict enough to deter elder abuse.

In the Netherlands, a recent small study of residents in nursing homes discovered that about 20% had been bullied by other residents and gay organisations here have long pointed out that life in care homes for elderly gay people is like turning the clock back to their closeted youth. Christopher Plummer may have won an Oscar for trumpeting the joys of coming out at a later age but the reality is often starkly less attractive!

The author of the Dutch study also points out that cut-backs in government funding mean that there are less staff available and those who are there are less motivated because of the pressure on their own time. Social activities are scrapped and personal attention becomes limited. Seniors then become bored or resentful that they are being ignored or worse and like the population in general, they themselves tend to take it out on the weakest, or 'different' within their own groups. Group behavior takes over and social isolation can result. Again, it's not a huge leap to put ourselves in this situation!

More Information: New Protocols Help Tackle Bullying in Dutch Care Homes

Okay, if this is going on under our noses and is occasionally highlighted on the news channels, why is it being allowed to continue in this way and more importantly why don't we seem to care when it's patently obvious that it's an emotional issue?

First we need to realize that in most countries, certain people are legally obliged to report elder abuse. In North America, they're called, 'Mandated Reporters' but most countries will have some sort of equivalent and if they don't, maybe they should! These people include all staff in long-term care facilities for the elderly. Equally, employees of the social services, health and law enforcement agencies are obliged to do something if they witness abuse. In the domestic situation, anybody who has taken on the role of care or custody giver for the elderly can also legally be seen as a mandatory reporter. This applies to both actual abuse and suspected abuse and again, legally there should be no sanctions against the person who reports a problem and care should be taken to maintain confidentiality. Punishments for disregarding and false reporting are generally fairly stiff.

More Information: Cruelty of The Carers: Damning Report Into Home Help for the Elderly Finds Neglect So Appalling Some Wanted To Die

That said, realistically the real world is a different place and 'whistle blowing' has never been a popular means of disclosing information. In these days when keeping your job is absolutely essential, it may not be such a surprise that very few care workers voluntarily expose abuse in their workplaces. Many care homes are run by private companies who will almost certainly find ways of removing staff who betray their colleagues or administrators. It's morally wrong but when you consider that many care workers are paid the minimum wage and have to work long hours in a difficult environment, it's a big ask to demand that these people should be responsible for the crimes of others.

More Information: Elderly Care: Expert to Review Quality and Regulation

Very often, the pressures on these people are such that, they only have time to clean up, make the beds and issue the food. Social interaction with the residents, which should go without saying as being essential, becomes an unpaid, voluntary activity and unless you are devoted to your vocation, you're not going to put in the extra effort. So employees are frequently disillusioned, under-paid and over-worked. I'm not saying that this is an excuse for brutal treatment of the dependents in your care but there are a few mitigating circumstances.

"If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should not grow old". James A. Garfield

I'm still trying to imagine myself in that situation; as someone over the age of 65 with HIV, secondary illnesses and few surviving friends and family. It's frighteningly easy. Of course, the way of the world dictates that if you have enough money, you can buy the right sort of care. However, even this option is no guarantee of safety. More and more cases are coming to light of pensioners being conned out of their cash, belongings and savings by unscrupulous people. You must be able to trust those who have your medical and social care in their hands and very often people don't have a choice. Isn't it tragic then that this trust is so frequently abused!

More Information: Finding Them Easier Prey, Scammers Target the Elderly

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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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