Stopping Abuse of the ElderlyPublished: December 15, 2004
To the Editor:
“Bowed by Age, Battered by an Addicted Nephew and Forced Into Begging and Despair” (front page, Dec. 12) ironically came just days after Congress failed to pass comprehensive legislation to combat elder abuse, the Elder Justice Act.
The days of denial about elder abuse, neglect and exploitation by local, state and national policy makers must end.
Elder abuse is as real and pervasive as child abuse and domestic violence, but it lacks the federal response and resources necessary to combat it.
According to Senator John Breaux, the Louisiana Democrat and the author of the Elder Justice Act, less than 2 percent of the funds spent on abuse prevention goes to combat elder abuse.
The goal of new federal legislation should be to render help and service to victims, provide training and related services to prevent new victimization, and ensure that we have accurate data about the extent of the problem nationally.
It should no longer be a question of should we act but how soon.
Robert B. Blancato
Elder Justice Coalition
Washington, Dec. 13, 2004
But as always I have to put in the last words: I feel much guilt for having been unable to work in elder abuse; directly with the victims and their families after my mom joined the ranks of the frail elderly. But I can still advocate through writing and taking action.
In this polarized political season many of us forgot about our other causes. They’re all tied together.
When you meet victims of elder abuse it hits you in places you never knew existed. Three examples:
One resident of the nursing home would go home some weekends to be with her husband. She began showing obvious signs of abuse. It was difficult for her to communicate.
I brought her up at a meeting of the various disciplines.
“Mr. O’Rourke? He’s so cute. I saw him yesterday driving the wrong way down 231 Street.”
“Yes, he was coming to a meeting with me. He was so shit-faced at 11 AM, I had to air out my office for fifteen minutes to get the stench of alcohol out. And 231 Street is a steep hill. How can anybody be cute going down the wrong way?”
They thought about that and grudgingly admitted he might not have been so cute. But the attitude that an elderly person could be cute and not capable of abusing a less able elderly person remained.
Another resident had fallen in her bathroom, and was in it for 24 hours before the deli-delivery guy broke into her apartment and brought her to a hospital. He was considered a hero, and was much lauded. Turned out that she had been paying him $1,000 a month to deliver ten dollars worth of food daily. She paid that also. Hero, I don’t think so. She had been too scared to admit this. She had money, but had been neglecting to pay her bills. Once she realized that she could no longer take care of herself, and agreed to stay at the home, she did admit this.
Between the back rent, and the cost of staying at the nursing home, she lost her resources. Medicare will pay the first hundred days of a person’s stay if they have some problem that might be helped through some form of rehab. She didn’t have any physical disorders that might have passed Medicare’s tests. We tried hard to find one.
Another woman had been living in an assisted living facility in Florida. Her family brought her back to New York when she had become obviously demented. Only the unit’s nurse and I spent “too much time,” working with her. She had been dehydrated–the number one cause of reversable dementia; she had constant urinary tract infections which can cause reversable dementia.
We brought her back to a point where she could have spirited conversations, remember where her room was and much else. But at that time the home didn’t even have a “wonderers garden,” where people with dementia who wondered could have access to a place where they could walk as much as they wanted to. Usually these gardens are mazes which makes it into a type of puzzle, and provides stimulation. We had nothing to keep her stimulated. Were we guilty of neglect? Not in any legal sense, but….
I don’t think that nursing homes are the future, or even the present. There has to be better ways for older people to live at home with dignity and respect. When I began studying gerentology I was excited at the possibilities of alternate living facilities. I lost that excitement when my school (ten years ago, it might have changed) didn’t share my excitement. Actually I had to take doctorate level courses and independent studies to have geriatrics as a true concentration.
One of my so-called teachers tried failing me because she didn’t think that working with the elderly was a true function of social work, and she didn’t understand my interventions which are very different than interventions with the families of younger people. As I had an almost all “A” average, the school asked to see my work, and I was given a “B+.”
I happen to believe that most grad school grades are inflated, and don’t put much stock in them, but this was so blatant. My teacher was in her 60’s.
We fear what might happen to us. I fear growing old alone without anybody to advocate for me. I have pre-planned as much as I can. My friends think that’s crazy–but if they had seen the people who ended up in the nursing home because of neglect or abuse, they’d be planning like crazy.
This holiday season take a minute to think about your grandmother, mom–or your own future. The way this country’s going if you’re going to be 80 in 60 years there won’t be any great changes.
Think about the elderly you see on the street. Do more than talk about how repulsive or cute they are. Aint nothing cute about old age. Write or e-mail your congress people and ask them to rethink the Elder Justice Act. The life you save may be your mothers, or your own.