The abuse of elders is, despite national hotlines, still the dirty little family secret. It takes many forms. Anything from the obvious — hitting or physically abusing people — to the more subtle. Shouting, screaming, threatening. Predating financial resources. Then there are the complex forms of abuse. One member of the family takes control of an elder and abducts that person away from the rest of the family. This usually happens between siblings and it tends to occur when only one parent is still alive.
However these adult children see it — and they always say plenty to justify their actions — it obviously is a failure of family relationship. It’s usually one inadequate child’s last opportunity to seize all the love, and all the attention finally. I most wonder just how the parent feels to be caught up in family war between their own children.
Then there are the abuses which everyone sees and no-one quite knows what to do about. Such as the age-disparate married couple. The husband significantly older than his wife. He treats her well; she makes publicly-demeaning remarks about her husband. Their friends are worried, but don’t know what to do. In these cases, contacting the adult children can make a lot of sense. Children usually do know the state of relationship between their parents. They’re often willing to take in the abused partner.
That’s fine if the abused partner is willing to go. What about when either spouse is unwilling for this to happen? What can families do then? Often, alas, families will let the situation ride. Then it’s neighbors who call the Elder Abuse Hotline. Verbal and emotional abuse is real abuse requiring action. However, in the current state of elder care, abuse is not uncommon and investigators few. This tends to mean that if there are no bruises to show, action will be slow to zero.
This is why it is so important for family members to be willing to intervene. That requires some courage. An abuser is often likely to have been that person throughout family life. That means there may be a pattern of intimidation that carries through into adult life. The kids won’t stand up against Dad.
One way that this situation can be brought under better control is for both parents to move into assisted living. That creates a watchful community around them that can intervene or limit any abusive speech and can call in the police for abusive action. Most adult children can work together to make this happen, especially if they see it as a solution to the parental problems.
Often, a parent-abuser can be someone who seems perfectly nice. You can have good friends and a good reputation and still be guilty of abusing a parent. Of course there are usually reasons — poor family relationships, alcoholism or drug abuse, greed for the parent’s wealth.
If you think an old person is being abused in any way, report it. No one need ever know it was you. But do not leave an elder at the mercy of abuse.
Article by: Frena Gray-Davidson
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