Elder abuse

Elder abuse or abuse of the elderly is a pandemic. It is much more common that we think. This savagery is shameful, disgusting, and against every rule on love, respect, and human decency. It is most unfortunate that while the human race has come a long way from our cavemen years, the caveman mentality and brutality among a few of us still remain. Perhaps I should not even demean our cavemen relatives. Perhaps elder abuse did not even exist in their culture during that time.

Parents would do anything, work hard, sacrifice, and even give up their life, to care for, provide for, protect, and save their children from any danger or calamity. While there are unfortunate exceptions, they are not the rule. Irresponsible and negligent parents are a lot less in proportion compared to children who abuse their parents, especially in their ripe old age, helpless, and dependent on their children, a stage of vulnerability in the winter of their life. Not only don’t they get the care and support they need, they are even abused and neglected. Some even tortured.

The National Center on Elder Abuse, Bureau of Justice statistics, dated September 9, 2012, reported 9.5 percent of the elder population in the United States were abused in 2010, a staggering number of almost six million, 5,961,568! Sixty seven and a third percent were females and the median age of the victims was 77.9. There were 66.4 percent white victims compared to 18.7 percent black and 10.4 percent Hispanic. While there was no statistics that included Asians, I would venture to guess that figure would probably be around 1 percent or lower.

The variety of abuse includes: Neglect, 58.5 percent; physical abuse, 15.7 percent; financial exploitation, 12.3; emotional, 7.3; sexual, 0.04; all other types, 5.1 percent. Sixty-six percent of the abuses are perpetrated by adult children or spouse; 42 percent of murder victims over 60 were killed by their own children, and 24 percent killed by their spouse. As far as abuse in the nursing home, 91 percent of nursing homes in the USA are understaffed and therefore not able to provide adequate care. Thirty-six percent are in violation of elder abuse laws.

“Elder abuse, according to World Health organization, is a violation of human rights and a significant cause of illness, injury, loss of productivity, isolation and despair.”

What is elder abuse?

As the term implies, abuse (according to the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986) means any act or behavior that causes any physical, mental, emotional, or sexual injury to an elderly person…such as physical, verbal or psychological abuse, harassment, intimidation of a dependent, humiliation, harassment, interference with personal liberty, confinement or isolation, financial exploitation, or willful deprivation of shelter, hygiene, nutrition, medication, medical care and treatment. Doing anything that the elder person does not agree or consent to or, or anything that hurts the elder, even those with Alzheimer’s or are unconscious, is elder abuse. Even passive neglect by children of the victim, or the caregiver, is elder abuse, and is a crime and punishable by law, just like those active abuse listed above.

What are the common types of financial exploitation?

This crime against the elderly includes misuse an elder’s personal checks, credit cards, or accounts; stealing cash, income checks, or household goods, forging the elder’s signature, and engaging in identity theft. One of commonest fraud strategy against the elderly is an announcement of a “prize” that the elderly person has won but must pay money to claim the prize, or asking donation for phony charities, and investment fraud with an “irresistible” dividend/profit.

What are the signs of elder abuse?

The elderly could be malnourished, unhealthy-looking, with a sad demeanor, depressed, withdrawn, obviously unhappy, some with scars or bruises or even actual bone dislocation and/or fractures from physical abuse, signs of restraints around the wrists and or the ankles, broken eyeglass frames, anal or vaginal bruises and/or bleeding, missing or dwindling personal funds and savings, changes in the personality, sudden change in their wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies, etc.

Why the abuse?

This is a complex and puzzling problem. As I wrote in my health book, Let’s Stop “Killing” Our Children (www.philipSchua.com) when a child is conceived and born, there is an unwritten covenant between the child and the parents: That the parents would do their utmost to love, care for, nurture, protect, guide, and educate the child, until he/she is independent and able to live on his/her own. The child, on the other hand, has the obligation, a moral duty, to love, respect, serve, protect, his/her parents, especially when they are old and helpless from the infirmities of old age, the very stage of life when they need their children’s love and support the greatest. There could not be a more wonderful and more scared covenant.

So, the only explanation in majority of cases of elder abusers is the character and integrity of the perpetrators (children or spouse, etc) or caregiver, or even the public in general. In some countries, the cruelty may even come from the government. While it might be true that some perpetrators are children who were mad at their parents, who could be poor providers or strict disciplinarians, or abusive parents, this is only a small number. But even these situations do not justify elder abuse. Mentally, there are some children or caregivers who are simply pathological, sick in the head, to say the least.

What can be done?

If anyone suspects elder abuse, neglected or exploited, inform a family member of the elderly you trust, or your doctor or the police. But make sure you tell at least one person, do not assume someone else will do it. The helpless victims cannot protect themselves and fear retaliation. If you actually see the abuse being committed, take a picture if you could, and report it to the authority. You could also go to the internet and learn how to report the elder abuse.

Our parents and other elders deserve our love, respect, compassion and support. That is a covenant within us and in our heart we must not breach nor minimize. Our own children are well-aware how we treat our parents, and would learn from that family tradition and behavior. Respect for the elders, relatives or not, is one of the greatest assets we, as Asians, and as Filipinos, have been inculcated by our culture amongst us, a facet of our life we can be truly proud of. Let us keep that covenant with our parents and our own children sacred and alive. That is what makes family a wonderful legacy of the human race to humanity itself.

This and other health articles are all compiled in a book listed in the US Library of Congress which you could view at www.philipschua.com


Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA,  a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com

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