Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Monday, June 15, 2020
We are encouraged to say something if we see something. I did and found my voice.
a hidden epidemic, one that will spread as the stress of financial hardships resulting from widespread unemployment and economic turmoil grows. It has no cure and the only known preventative is in the actions society takes. I learned it was essential not only to understand what I was seeing, but to have the courage to speak up.
National Council on Aging, NCOA, (www.ncoa.org) reports that approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse, with estimates as high as 5 million elders abused each year. Elder abuse is broadly defined to include all types–such as neglect, physical, emotional, and verbal abuse–one study estimates that only .07% of cases are reported to authorities.
When narrowed down to financial abuse and exploitation, the statistics are even more grim with the American Association of Retired Persons (www.aarp.org) stating that 1 in 44 cases are reported. Of those, few were prosecuted and even fewer resulted in conviction.
I held a natural reticence toward silence when I considered something was a private matter or a family affair. Husbands and wives quarrel. Parents reprimand children. Without physical harm, I did not understand my duty to report.
In elder financial exploitation, a bias exists to blame the victim. Granny should have read the fine print better or she freely chose that her child should have a new car or fancy vacation. It’s none of our business to question her decisions or to question the sudden apparent wealth of her child. By blaming the victim, we absolve ourselves of taking action.
I politely demurred and kept my silence until I realized the perpetrator banked on that, making me complicit in the crimes.
There is a price to the elder for our silence. NCOA stated elder victims have a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who have not been mistreated. Then there is the price of the concerned person who breaks the silence and dares to question the bonds of trust within a family. I know this because I am paying the price of breaking my silence. By honoring the trust of a beloved elder, I betrayed the trust of a family member by seeking help.
At its core, trust is a slippery weapon when used against the elder. Age or illness may have diminished their abilities, but trust and judgment remain as their tools for retaining independence and relevance. The World Health Organization recognizes an “expectation of trust” exists between the older person and their abuser. The elder writes checks or signs documents with trust, even as their eyesight may fail them or their ability to decipher terms wanes. Two-thirds of abusers are those who the elder naturally trust the most.
The New England Journal of Medicine reports, "Perpetrators are most likely to be adult children or spouses, and they are more likely to be male, to have a history of past or current substance abuse, to have mental or physical health problems, to have a history of trouble with the police, to be socially isolated, to be unemployed or have financial problems, and to be experiencing major stress . . . Most studies indicate that older women are more likely than older men to be victims of abuse.” (emphasis added)
The urge to protect the abuser is my beloved elder’s greatest hurdle. Like other elder victims, she is embarrassed and will not admit to harm in fear of the consequences the perpetrator may face. Age has made her increasingly dependent on others and often the abuser is the person she most relies upon for her support. By taking action against the abuser, she risks increased isolation.
Laws, created to protect, necessitate the elder to bear witness against the perpetrator, leading to few Orders of Protection and abysmally low conviction rates. Legal standards to prove duress or fear are not calibrated to the frail.
I did not challenge my own silence when learning of a single instance of misappropriation. Yet, repeated instances exposed her inner turmoil and caused my concern. The family did not want to see abuse and challenged my intrusion. The authorities supported me and encouraged her to break her own silence, even while acknowledging the devilish difficultly in prosecution.
With the weakening of our economy, incidences of elder financial exploitation will inevitably rise. As employment weakens, it may be the elder with the only secure source of income through their Social Security, investments, or retirement plan. They are ripe for harm. We need to help elders by recognizing the patterns of abuse that evidence financial exploitation.
There is a time in life when the child becomes the caregiver, the overseer and the protector. As a parent or guardian, we would never let a child be bullied, abused, or hurt. As the tables turn, we must offer that same code of protection to our aging population. It is our time to speak up and ensure our elders are safe and protected.
Saturday, June 6, 2020
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
I was walking down a street in Venice taking in the ambiance when...
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Like many other Boston-area college students, she came home for Spring Break and never left. Lockdown happened. At first, her biggest crisis was having only packed clothes for a week, not the month-long stretch we thought we were in for.
The discussion started with reviewing ways to see friends and family and still stay safe. She and her girlfriends had met in a parking lot, staying in their cars or sitting on top of them. I was happy to know gloves and masks were worn and hear other ways they had practiced social distancing. Like for many of us, the first weeks were almost fun. We hadn't gotten bored yet. Social distancing challenges were still novel and creative. Longing hadn't set in.
My husband and I are extremely careful and follow all the protocols. We hadn't counted on our daughter being a potential weak point in our defensive wall against the virus.
Then tension filled our discussion. She said her boyfriend was going to visit, and she assured us they would follow every safe distancing guideline.
As much as I love and trust my daughter and her boyfriend, my maternal instincts were hard-pressed to accept he would drive five-plus hours to sit in a chair on our front lawn for a two-hour visit and then drive home. Somehow, I couldn't see how that was better than hours on Facetime or Zoom. He lives with his parents and younger brother. Seeing him meant expanding our defensive wall to include four points of contact. I said no because we needed to put our "want to" list aside and do only the actions on our "have to" list. There were too many unknowns. We needed to give the scientific world, and us, time to catch up on all the virus had changed.
The battle continued. She assured me everyone in his home was extra cautious, following each and every precaution. We were over reacting and being ridiculous. I didn't doubt the precautions the boyfriend and his family were following, I just didn't want the risk of that one momentary lapse. What about touching his face after filling the car with gas? What about stopping at a rest stop? My concerns were for him as much as her.
My reasoning failed to resonate with her. Finally, I said that if she was truly hell-bent on seeing him, then she could go to him, but plan on staying there for the foreseeable future. She is an adult. We could not stop her, but we would not take the risk to have her return to us. Was it worth the risk of a two-week quarantine in our garage?
Then I got the semi-silent treatment for three weeks.
This morning, she looked at me in that way that said she had something to say. My stomach dropped. I thought she was going to tell me she was taking me up on my solution, that she was packing and leaving.
Instead, she told me everyone in her boyfriend's home tested positive for COVID-19. His mother is sick, but managing at home. His brother and father are not showing symptoms. Yet.
I hugged my daughter and she hugged me back. We sat around the kitchen, laughing at the antics of her kitten and planning the night's meal. I didn't say, "I told you so," as I think she may have expected I had a right to.
Despite their best efforts, four members of one family tested positive and are now officially quarantined. Her boyfriend was shocked. He still feels fine.
I do feel better knowing that I wasn't being over reactive. I watch the news, I question the right approach.
For this battle, the combination of maternal instinct and science won. I wonder what it will take to win the war.