Elder Abuse a Growing Problem
By Margarita Mendoza, El Observador Editor
July 8, 2021
It is so loud and at the same time it is quiet and almost invisible. Still it is real.
It is abuse of the elderly.
In information about World Elder Abuse Day, which was June 15, the United Nations reported one in six older persons were abused in 2017.
The U.S. Department of Justice says at least 10% of adults 65 and older experience abuse in any given year. And while there are stories of abuse in nursing homes and other living facilities, more than 90% of older adults actually live in the community, not in congregate homes.
Additionally, the DOJ reports, with many young people moving to cities, there is a higher percentage of older adults living in rural areas, places where abuse is typically not well reported. As of 2017, nearly 20% of people living in rural areas were 65 or older, as compared with 15 percent in urban areas.
Regardless of the source of the statistics, the figures could be higher. Many are afraid to report abuse because the abuser is usually someone the older person trusts, such as a family member, a neighbor or a caregiver. 
And, the U.N. reports, “Over the next three decades, the number of older persons worldwide is projected to more than double, reaching more than 1.5 billion persons in 2050.”
Types of abuse
Elder abuse is a “type of violence (that) constitutes a violation of human rights and includes physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse; financial and material abuse; abandonment; neglect; and serious loss of dignity and respect,” according to the World Health Organization. 
The abuse can happen just once or repeatedly. It can also be a failure to take appropriate action in caring for an older person.
It can occur in “any relationship where there is an expectation of trust,” WHO explained, and can cause “harm or distress to an older person.”
Psychological and financial abuse are the most common types, followed by neglect, physical and sexual abuse. 
When there is an illegal or an inappropriate use of the money, possessions, or assets of the elder there is financial abuse. The DOJ reports financial fraud and exploitation constitutes 5.2% of elder abuse. The same study estimates the rate of underreported  financial exploitation is 1 in 44.
“For years, my mom saved her money in the bank,” said Carmen de Salazar, who lives in Colombia, but whose mother now lives in Elgin. “She used to live (off) the interest of her CD. One day a cousin’s husband promised he would pay her double the interest the bank was giving her. He gave her a fake check as proof he would repay her money.” 
Salazar’s mother trusted him, withdrew the money and gave it to him. 
“He paid her the first month of interest and then disappeared, leaving her without money to pay for her own expenses,” Salazar said.
Even though Salazar’s mother was also close to other family members, “instead of doing the right thing and getting together to repay her the money, or at least support her emotionally with their presence or phone calls, they disappeared from her life. … That episode of her life triggered depression and illness” for her mother.
Abandoning the elderly is a sin
Pope Francis, on March 4, 2015, during a General Audience at Saint Peter’s Square mentioned his ministry in Buenos Aires, when he was in direct contact with “this reality and its problem.”
He said, “I spoke with each person and I frequently (asked), ‘How are you? And your children? ... And do they come to visit you? ... When was the last time they came?’ I remember an elderly woman who said to me, ‘... for Christmas.’ It was August! Eight months without being visited by her children, abandoned for eight months! This is called mortal sin, understand?”
When St. John Paul II was pope, in his letter to the elderly in 1999 he wrote about the commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” He explained, “This divine commandment is the first of those inscribed on the second tablet of the law, which deals with the duties of human beings towards one another and towards society. Furthermore, it is the only commandment to which a promise is attached: ‘Honor your father and mother, so that your days in the land which the Lord your God gives you may be long.’” 
Diocesan ombudsmen watch
In the Diocese of Rockford, Catholic Charities has the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program. 
Volunteers work “to preserve and protect the dignity of individuals who reside in long-term care facilities in our communities,” said Cathy Weightman-Moore, director of Catholic Charities. 
They work to make sure the residents are treated with respect and receive great care and services in order to maximize independence. 
Weightman-Moore said it is hard to hear a son or a daughter say, “ ‘I can’t go to the facility and visit my mom. She is not the same person.’ ” Those children do not realize, she added, that it is not “about them. It is about the person. It is about being (in) the moment with them.” 
Absent children are missing important lessons from their parents or grandparents, she said, because older adults “teach us how important it is to work together to care for them. They taught us how to care for them. That is a beautiful gift to be able to care for them. They cared for us. Now we care for them.” 
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of licensed beds in nursing homes in the U.S. was 1.7 million in 2016. The Illinois Department of Public Health reports, “Illinois has approximately 1,200 long-term care facilities serving more than 100,000 residents, from the young to the elderly.” 
Ana, who works in a nursing home and asked not to be identified, says she likes what she does. “It is a job where I can help others and feel useful in life,” she said. 
But there is a dark side to her experience, she said, explaining that sometimes “a resident can’t eat fast. Sometimes caregivers at the facility do not feed them enough.” 
The employees can lose their patience, “because we have too many residents to serve.” 
Also, she says the employees “do not receive frequent training or encouragement from management.” 
She has also seen some residents who “are completely abandoned by their families.”
Make a difference
July 25 will be the first World Day for Grandparents and Elderly, established by Pope Francis. The theme for the day is “I am with you always.” 
That day is an opportunity to show love and respect to men and women “who came before us on our own road, in our own house, in our daily battle for a worthy life. They are men and women from whom we have received so much,” said Pope Francis in 2015, because the “elder (person) is not an alien. We are that elder: in the near or far future … even if we don’t think it. And if we don’t learn how to treat the elderly better, that is how we will be treated.”


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