“Whistler’s Mother” James McNeill Whistler c. 1871
Not too long ago, Mickey Rooney, a stage and screen actor appeared before a special U.S. Senate committee on elder abuse and reported that he was financially abused by a family member. Brooke Astor, an American philanthropist and socialite was found living in squalor while her son diverted her money into his accounts. Mr. Rooney and the late Mrs. Astor may be well known and have considerable assets, but they are not alone. I am positive that there are many families who can speak of elder maltreatment in their own families. As more and more of the baby boomers enter retirement and beyond, we will be hearing more about elder abuse and maltreatment.
The National Institute on Aging and the CDC has identified the types of elder maltreatment. There are 6 types of elder abuse.
Physical abuse –This includes hitting, slapping, kicking, shoving or any sign of force.
Sexual abuse –This is forcing the elder to engage in a sexual act without consent or if they cannot consent.
Psychological or emotional abuse –These are behaviors that harm the elder’s self worth or cause emotional distress. Examples would be isolation from family or friends, name calling, making threats, or destroying property.
Neglect-This is the failure to provide the basic needs such as housing, food, clothing, and/or medical care.
Abandonment– This occurs when the caregiver deserts the elder and no longer provides care for him or her.
Financial abuse or exploitation-This is illegally misusing the elder’s assets, money or property.
Caring for the elderly can be very demanding and difficult. It can be stressful. It can be expensive. Caregivers may have to be everything to that person 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The elder may require someone to provide nursing care, fix meals, do laundry, assist with bathing and cleaning, transportation to and attending doctor’s appointments, and giving medications to just name a few. The elder may have significant medical issues that require constant attention on the caregiver’s part. Additionally, caregivers may have their own families to care for or they may have to forego their own careers while caring for an elderly person. The caregiver could easily be overwhelmed by it all. Not only do we need to identify elder abuse, but we need to give our caregivers the skills to manage and care for the elderly. We must learn how to prevent abuse in the first place. I may be naïve, but I don’t think the majority of caregivers start out with the intention to harm and abuse their elderly charges.
As our Boomers get older we will be learning more and more about elder abuse and how to prevent it. If you think someone is being abused, you can call the Adult Abuse Hotline at 1-800-677-1116 or 911. If you want to learn more about this topic you can go to the CDC, the NIH, or the Institute on Aging.
Cynthia Wilkes MD
Stafford Womens Health Associates