Honey, we need to talk: Elder neglect and abuse

By the GlimmerGlass Executive Board

The value that is placed on life is categorical. That is, people have assigned worth to life based on its stage. The death of a 40-year-old, to us, pales in comparison to the death of a 40-day-old. There’s something about the life of an infant – the innocence or the purity of it that makes that loss all the more tragic. But if the severities of the horrors that occur in life are measured by youth, then what is to become of those who are at the other end of the spectrum?

There are many organizations that dedicate their time to promoting awareness for abuse and neglect amongst different people groups, the most recognized being children, women and people with disabilities.  Yet the growing issue of elder abuse goes largely ignored.

One in four vulnerable elders are at risk of abuse and only a small proportion of cases is currently detected. The mistreatment of the elderly spans a wide range of behaviors – verbal abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, and exploitation. The abuse, often times, takes place in nursing homes or care centers, according to Oxford journal on age and aging.

The Masters in Healthcare website says that more than 30 percent of all nursing homes experience some form of resident abuse, whether it’s by staff or other residents. The system for who can come in and out, or even who is able to work at a facility, is very weak in a lot of these homes.

Ninety-two percent of all nursing homes employ at least one convicted criminal. There are no national requirements for background checks for nursing home employees.

Comparatively, in the United States all persons intending to work with children are required to go through a working with children (WWC) check. This check is set in place to “screen people’s criminal records and professional conduct and prevent those who pose an unjustifiable risk to children from working with or caring for them.”

After someone passes an initial check, organization have systems to even further ensure that no harm comes to the children are in their care. Many of the patients in nursing homes do not receive the benefit of an extensive and thorough staff background check to ensure that they are always treated fairly.

For some of those who have the elderly in their charge, these people are only a nuisance. They are an easy outlet for their own frustrations or temptations, or a means by which to exercise their inner evils.

Depending on the elders’ condition, they are often seen as unreliable or not credible; a caretaker can write off reports of abuse from patients as senile behavior or even delusions. In other cases, the elder may not know how to report the abuse or may not even know that it is happening. The Masters in Healthcare site says, “Many nursing home residents do not have the mental presence or confidence to report abuse for themselves, and it may go unnoticed by family and other caretakers, so often, nursing home abuse cases are not reported.”

From the start, nursing homes and other facilities that tend to the elderly are set up so that negligence is nearly permissible.
Though both children and the elderly are in a stage of life where they need the care and supervision of others to help sustain them, only one of these groups garners the deserved amount of attention.

Why is it that we are so protective of our youth, the innocent of society and so careless with our elders, the ones who contain our wisdom?

The answer is uncomfortably obvious: their lives mean less to us. Somehow, the fact that the elderly are winding down on their journey instead of just beginning it means that what happens to them doesn’t matter.

The physical, emotional, sexual and mental torment that they endure, helplessly, doesn’t matter. Those who go through life weak and malnourished and even perish due to neglect are a non-issue. The fact that many are abandoned, left to fend for themselves with no means to be able to do so is not any of our concern.

We have allowed them to become sitting ducks for predators, for monsters with malicious intentions, and we are okay with that.

The lawyers at Saiontz & Kirk, Pennsylvania,  who take on cases concerning the neglect and abuse of elders, say: “Dignity is one of the most protected and preserved elements in our society.  Prior to entering a nursing home, loved ones were proud individuals who worked hard throughout their lives and deserve respect and proper care when they are unable to care for themselves.”

We need to demand better of our nursing homes, our care providers and ourselves. We need to honor the dignity of the aging while maintain our own.

In order for care facilities to get better, we have to demand better of them. If we stop tolerating the inhumane acts performed against our elders, we can move away from the idea that life is only precious at its start, and learn to honor it at any age.

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