Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
Americans often admire the reverence other cultures have for elders in their societies, particular in Asian and African cultures. We look on with dismay about reports of neglected and lonely seniors, abandoned by family members and society. We react with horror to reports of elder abuse, whether financial exploitation or physical harm.
Sadly, it turns out that elder abuse is a universal problem, shared by many cultures in nations around the world. The World Health Organization now considers elder abuse a worldwide health threat, as well as a human rights violation.
Wednesday, June 15th is the fifth annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This event is marked around the world in nations from India to Australia to Canada, and of course all over the United States. It is marked with seminars, public events, and education. The simple act of raising awareness is a fundamental prevention strategy that not only teaches new information but also helps to change attitudes and behavior.
To honor World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, we will also do our part through this column.
The World Health Organization has identified several risk factors for an older person to become an elder abuse victim.
The single greatest risk factor is social isolation. Social isolation from family, friends, neighbors and colleagues greatly increases the possibility of mistreatment.
When there is erosion of the bonds between generations of a family, elder abuse can more easily occur. This can happen simply when younger generations relocate to other areas for work or school, leaving older relatives alone. This is especially critical in cultures where older people have traditionally been cared for by their children.
Changes in the basic support networks for seniors have left many without people they feel they can trust to reveal the shame and anguish of elder abuse. They feel uncomfortable telling a stranger due to embarrassment, due to fears they won’t be believed, or cannot be protected if the abuse is exposed.
Frequently, an elder abuse victim is so dependent upon their abuser for caretaking that they are intimidated or frightened into silence. Withstanding abuse might seem preferable if the only alternative is being placed in an unfamiliar institutional setting with no familiar faces.
The depiction of older adults as frail, weak, and dependent also feeds elder abuse. It makes seniors seems like easy prey. These stereotypes can become a self-fulfilling prophecy for older adults. They think that mental and physical infirmities and a sense of powerlessness are normal to the aging process. This is not at all so!
In many nations around the world where individuals are still fighting for basic human rights, systems of inheritance and the granting of land rights can affect power and wealth within families as older generations step aside.
While men and women face the same risk of abuse in general, women are at much greater risk in cultures where women they have inferior social status. Older women are at special risk when they become widowed. They may lose control of property, wealth or basic rights that were once granted through marriage.
Awareness through events like World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is a seemingly simple but critically important first step. You can do your part by educating yourself, learning more and supporting the political and social efforts to stop elder abuse. A good place to start is the website Stamp Out Elder Abuse at http://www.stampoutelderabuse.org. There is an online petition there urging Congress to take action on several elder abuse initiatives.
Finally, a small symbol of your support is by wearing a purple ribbon, scarf, or other purple garment on Wednesday, June 15.
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!
NEXT WEEK: The Fountain of Youth: Lessons from Jack LaLanne