I’m mad as hell about the way our elderly population—our parents, relatives, all our senior relatives and friends—are shoved aside, tormented, victimized and abused. That shoving, tormenting, victimizing and abuse of helpless elders happens most often at home. Not in nursing homes, although the abuse that happens there frequently captures headlines, but at home, where the family dynamic can camouflage mistreatment. According to the American Psychological Association,
"Most elder abuse and neglect takes place at home. The great majority of older people live on their own or with their spouses, children, siblings, or other relatives--not in institutional settings. When elder abuse happens, family, other household members, and paid caregivers usually are the abusers. Although there are extreme cases of elder abuse, often the abuse is subtle, and the distinction between normal interpersonal stress and abuse is not always easy to discern."
A Great Places reader, who's following the Senior Watchdog blog, shares her story of familial abuse. We learn from her experience that the impact, the guilt and the shame, can last for decades.
"I can’t remember whether it was sunny or cloudy that August morning when the phone rang. The only thing I remember for sure is that it was Rachel, my niece, on the line. Rachel was 50 that year, but she looked at least 80: smoking, drug abuse, and most recently, methamphetamine addiction, had left her toothless and wrinkled. Her voice was deep and raspy that morning. 'Your sister is back in the hospital, Aunt Edna.' 'Oh no, her heart again?' 'No. Elaine is in surgery.' 'For what?' 'Aunt Edna, she had a bedsore and they had to operate.'
"My heart sank. I’m a nurse. I know that if it’s necessary to operate on a bedsore, the situation is dangerous. I immediately set out on the four-hour drive to the small-town hospital. When I arrived, my sister was in the intensive care unit, hooked up to IVs and drainage tubes. I looked at the pump discharge from her draining bedsore and realized it was serious.
"For several months I had pleaded with Elaine to go to a nursing home. She refused: 'You’re not going to talk me into moving into a nursing home. I’ve heard enough horrid stories about those places.' This time, though, she agreed that I could look for one. When I asked whether Rachel had abused her, she turned away from me and whispered, 'No.' I didn’t believe her. I discovered that the hospital had sent the police to her home to investigate the possibility that Elaine was being abused. Not surprisingly, neither Rachel nor Elaine admitted anything.
"My sister was suffering; the infection in her bedsore was beyond belief. When I got ready to leave, I promised that I’d be back soon, and told her how much I loved her. She said, 'I love you, too, Sis.' Soon after I got home, the hospital administrator called and told me that Elaine had died.
"I know that my sister died of abuse and neglect—not in a nursing facility, but in her own home. Elaine died of Seniorcide. It breaks my heart to say this. I should have been more assertive and taken her to a nursing home. I feel the guilt every day."
We at Great Places are appalled by how our seniors are victimized--and we won't be quiet when family members abuse infirm seniors.
The SENIOR WATCHDOG is on the case.