Elder Abuse: a Deepening Current Social Issue Problem
People are living longer and longer lives; many requiring ongoing, long-term care. Current events show that more elder abuse cases are being reported than in years past, and many experts believe that the actual number of cases will increase in the years ahead as older Americans constitute a larger proportion of the U.S. population than ever before. One of the pressing current social issue problems of our time is elder abuse, which can include physical harm, sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, financial or material exploitation, and intentional or unintentional neglect.
Many baby boomers, currently the age group ranging from 40 to 60 years old, can expect to live well into their 80s and 90s. Elder care often falls to the grown children of seniors, who now are baby boomers and busy with their own children and careers. Getting caught in this care-giving sandwich can be an emotional as well as a financial burden.
Complicating the problem is the fact that, in the next few years the first baby boomers will reach retirement age. “As the elderly population continues to grow, and as health care and senior living arrangements increase in costs, more people will assume responsibility for those who raised them,” predicts Carmel Bitondo Dyer, associate professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and codirector of the Texas Elder Abuse and Mistreatment Institute. “With few alternatives and no training in how to handle their new-found care giving responsibilities, many will inflict pain.” (See the current article on elder abuse, who’s at Risk?)
No one knows exactly how many elderly people are mistreated, but the National Research Council’s Panel to Review Prevalence and Risk of Elder Abuse and Neglect estimated in a 2003 report that between one and two million Americans, aged 65 or older, have been injured, exploited, neglected or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depend for care or protection. The figures for the United States are thought to reflect those in the rest of the world.
The National Center on Elder Abuse, funded by the U.S. Administration on Aging, estimates that only one in six domestic elder abuse cases is reported to authorities. For instance, in 2003, 565,747 cases were reported to state Adult Protective Services agencies in the United States, whereas they believe the actual number of elder abuse victims for that year may have been closer to two million.
In an article featured in Vision Magazine, one such case of elder abuse involves a social worker’s report about a man who started exhibiting signs of dementia. His 32 year old daughter suggested he move in with her and coerced her father into granting her power-of-attorney. She quickly took advantage of the situation, withdrawing $500 each day out of his checking account, soon bringing the account balance to zero. She cashed her father’s $2,000-a-month pension check using some of it to pay for her father’s food, doctor bills and medications, but spending the majority on her own living expenses.
As her father’s dementia worsened, he also lost bladder and bowel control, and it became harder for her to care for her father. As a result her tolerance level for him and his condition decreased. But she knew that if he went into a nursing home or an assisted-living facility where he would get 24-hour professional care, she would lose her father’s pension checks. Her solution: she tied her father onto the toilet and kept him there for several days at a time until he was so dehydrated and sick that he was dying.
What can we do as a society to curb the current social problem of elder abuse? According to Elizabeth Podnieks, vice president of the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, “The first step is education. We need to get to the point where everybody knows what elder abuse is and is aware that it exists. The more we talk about it, the more real it becomes and the more people are shocked by it, and then the more committed we are going to be as a society to do something about it.”
Eliminating elder abuse will take a commitment on the part of people everywhere to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions. In order to eliminate this growing current social issue problem, we need to be each other’s keeper.
About The Author
Author, Kristin Gabriel, writes articles on current issues in society and culture for Vision Media. More information about these and other topics can be found at http://www.vision.org.