With a bit of luck and good management we all might live a long life, even if as a medical miracle, so it would be beneficial for all of us to mind how we treat elders. One day we will be one of them.
Those in their seventies and eighties (or older) – the silent generation – have experienced history: depressions, recessions, World War II, the threat of nuclear war and Vietnam are part of their living memory, or what’s left of it in the frontal lobe.
Resilience has been challenged as they adapt to changes in values, technology and materialism, from a base of thrift. They miss manners, respect, behavioural standards, empathy, compassion, understanding and kindness.
Global working families may mean they are remote from children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Even in proximity, disconnectedness may be a function of the busyness of families combined with capture by devices intended to enhance communications.
Expectations held by the silent generation are modest, born of their history and experience: usually a measure of attention, respect and kindness is all that is required by this resilient lot.
We are not alone
Society has yet to adjust to address the needs of elders at every level. The disjunction leaves many of them vulnerable to many forms of abuse: physical, emotional, sexual, financial, exploitation, neglect, even indifference. As the condition of elders declines, it seems difficult for younger people enculturated to self-absorption to treat elders with dignity and respect, even kindness and affection (the latter might be a stretch).
According to the UN, around one in six older people experience some form of abuse that can lead to physical injuries and long term psychological consequences. Much goes unreported. Estimates of global population indicate that people above the age of 60 will exceed the number of younger people by 2050, rising from 900 million in 2015 to about 2 billion. Current elder abuse issues are likely to increase in line with demographic changes. How well we adapt to care of our elderly will become an indication of our maturity as a person, family and society.
Regulate or resolve
Elder abuse is known to be significantly under-reported, hence the theme “Lifting up Voices” for this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It is so easy to write off the importance, knowledge, wisdom and stories of our elders merely because of their accumulated years and diminishments, especially when it takes time to listen – time that others may not have, or be prepared to give. Much can be lost.
Higher incidence of abuse is reported against elders in residential care, as the current Royal Commission in Australia is finding out. Many of the findings will lead to increased monitoring of treatment and regulation to raise standards of care. All this will cost money that will be shuffled down the pile of priorities, relying for resolution on the dedication of carers and family members.
Abuse of elders in family and the community is likely to be under-reported, especially when the perpetrators are family members. Embarrassment, denial, shame and powerlessness become overwhelming.
In families, abuse takes many forms, or combinations that cannot necessarily be regulated, yet need to be resolved. To name a few along the spectrum:
- Financial – coercing elders to hand over money and assets, even eviction, leaving the aged parent bereft, likely to be followed by indifference, neglect or threats of withholding grandchildren
- Psychological – constant berating, humiliation, bullying and manipulation
- Physical – actual or threatened physical menace to assert domination
- Sexual – taking advantage of relative powerlessness
- Weaponising of grandchildren – preventing access to grandchildren deprives all parties of love, knowledge wisdom and affirmation of the worth of life
- Neglect, indifference, isolation – demonstrating laziness, inconsideration and ingratitude for the gift of life and the opportunities current generations enjoy that were not possible for the olds they now abandon. Loneliness has become a major issue for elders, which, for some lends to depression and suicidal tendencies.
Some regulation may be necessary, though resolution is more likely to achieve better outcomes by breathing fresh life into proven traditional Christian principles that seem to have dissipated along with the practice of religion.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’d be aware that rugby player Israel Folau has found himself in a lot of bother and out of a $4 million contract for quoting his Christian tenets on social media. So I am sticking my neck out by mentioning a couple myself:
- Honour your father and your mother – one of the ten commandments that have guided western civilization, invoking respect for elders, along with the concomitant obligation that parents also honour their children;
- Love one another as I have loved you – evoking empathy, kindness, compassion and love;
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – a call to treat elders how you would like to be treated when you are old;
- Love thy neighbour as thyself – setting the gold standard for behaviour towards others and towards care of self.
Today’s elders were raised on Christian principles and honoured them, if imperfectly, over a lifetime of service, generosity and respect. They become confounded and dismayed with the deterioration of values that parallels their own decline. They wonder what the world is coming to, what their grandchildren will have to contend with and what they can do about it.
What elders can do
Firstly, they can confine concerns to caring for themselves. Having despatched their duties over a lifetime, they can take a cue from Jesus or Jordan Peterson and care for themselves first. Following the Maturity Model outlined in my book Becoming, they are responsible only for themselves at the later stage of life. Blessings of good will can be projected to all others, while focusing on their own lives.
Be cheerful and positive as possible in all communications. State your case simply and listen carefully. As far as possible remain independent and in charge of your own life. Be mindful, though not responsible, for the quandary that many adult children confront as they are compelled to deal with the multiple crises presenting in midlife. How midlifers deal with the crises will largely determine how generative (or not) their own later years will be. In this era of corporate social responsibility, elder abuse may not look good on a CV.
Governments recognise the commonality of problems and provide a range of services as outlined at the bottom of this blog to help alleviate concerns. Elders under pressure need to know that their problems are recognized and help is available.
The five in six
While the emphasis of this blog has been on abuse experienced by the one in six elders (common enough), there are another five in six who, thankfully, are exemplars of how things could or should be for elderly. Families including elders in events, celebrating their lives, sharing with grandchildren, phoning and visiting occasionally to let you know they care, bringing them along to grandchildren’s’ sporting events and performances, looking out for them with household assistance and meals where needed. None of these is spectacular or challenging – just thoughtful and considerate.
In doing so, benefits accrue both ways: a family can be enriched by the wisdom of elders and the elders themselves are affirmed in the value of their life, even in decline.
How to get help
- In an emergency phone the police on Triple Zero (000)
- Call the Elder Abuse Helpline (9am–5pm, Monday to Friday) for free and confidential advice for anyone experiencing elder abuse or who suspects someone they know may be experiencing elder abuse.
Phone: 1300 651 192 (Queensland only) or (07) 3867 2525 (rest of Australia).
- Legal support for seniors
- Office of the Public Guardian looks after the interests of adults with impaired capacity
- Other support services for seniors.
7 thoughts on “Out with the Olds”
The elderly have much to teach us. I greatly miss my Mum, Dad and Mum–in-law whose company I always craved and enjoyed. To see my children treating them with the utmost respect and loving them very much, was a joy to us all when they were alive. We all need to raise our voices on behalf of those who have been disempowered and cannot do so themselves. An excellent post Paula.
Thank you Lyn, the blog was written out of the experience of many with the hope of ‘touching’ a few people. Feel free to share.
Excellent article Paula and so very true. We do need to value our “elders” more and their contribution to our way of life. My mum lived until she was almost 99 years old (my dad died at 70) and mum lived in the same house, from the time she was married back in the 30’s, and cared for my special needs brother. We were a close knit family and I miss my chats with mum every day. I miss her wisdom and practical solutions to any dramas that ensued in daily life. Miss you so much my lovely mum!
Very touching Margi. Those who show contempt for elders and isolate them do not realise the love, wisdom and memories they are missing out on that you so clearly articulate in your response.
A thoughtful and very considered reflection on individual and collective elder abuse, Paula. While the focus of this article is persons over 60 (approaching that myself), I would add that abuse at any age or stage is a scourge within a family, community or culture. In my professional life, I see many, many elderly people, and am dismayed by stories of elder abuse of other elders, particularly at times of great personal duress – in my tiny orbit, serious illness or pending death – when contact with an ill or dying person is discouraged or blocked, or the afflicted patient is poorly treated by their family, close or extended. While the perpetrators of elder abuse will most likely be those younger than the sufferer (by sheer weight of numbers), it is not always the case. Ultimately, we are all called to kindness and connection. I am reminded daily in my work, that illness is a great leveller. Tolerance of the infirm, at any age, is a great measure of humanity. The elderly deserve care, respect and patience; their demonstration of these traits amongst their own cohort would be a fine example to those who follow.
Thank you for a very deep and considered response. Agree that the elderly, like any cohort is capable of mistreatment of their own as well as others.
Paula, where to start. A very well written account of the rise and fall of society as we knew it.!
I guess most over 60’s ,learnt that, “manners maketh the man”.It certainly appears that the cause of elderly care abuse is, as a result of the lack of family standards,which have fallen since both parents started working and ” after school care” became a de facto parent..When do children have time to eat the evening meal with mum and dad together…..at a table.?
Sunday is a trip to some dreamy location which entertains children non stop , so mum and dad can feel better for having left them alone all week. Church no longer entertains.
The feel good christians do entertain with pop music and hand clapping whilest swinging away .The hard core religions which did entertain with their garments and the theatre of the eucharist which shared the body and blood of christ in common union is degraded by society because it is boring and in some cases not inclusive of women.!
We have dropped the basics from education which firstly insisted, that we respect the person giving us instructions.The position of teacher has been so degraded that parents do not have
any faith in those who choose to take up the profession. Parents now know more than the teacher and have been given the right to bully them .!The system now insists that every event in a childs development is rewarded with a”winners badge”. Perhaps this is the start
in life that our “care workers” started from, surely this encourages the mediocre to pass through the system without a check.
I share your thoughts and concerns though my frustration with our law makers or enforcers
makes me weep.I feel so guilty for not having put my hand up.All political partys and their representatives have insulted us, stolen our standards and abused our intelligence.