Abuse is most often aimed at the weak, the helpless, and the dependent. Spousal abuse and child abuse are commonly recognized forms of this behavior. Less often recognized is the damage caused by the abuse of the elderly. Unfortunately, elder abuse is common in all circumstances where the elderly have lost full control over their lives.
Return to helplessness:
- The elderly as a helpless dependent
- Elders in institutions: The undefended elderly
- Coping with elderly abuse
A Second Childhood
Whether through a form of geriatric dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, or merely through the increasing weakness and indignity of old age, the elderly lose their independence and their ability to defend themselves as a common result of aging. For every hale and hearty octogenarian in full control of his or her life, there are hundreds of others suffering some degree of dependence on others. Whether they are friends, family or institutions, those who provide support can easily cross the line to becoming abusers.
The causes for elderly abuse are complex and difficult to address. The response of caretakers to adult-sized, adult-strength dependents, which are often emotionally unable to accept their new, lower status, creates a prime circumstance for inappropriate behaviors. The physical struggle to get an unwilling adult to sit and eat a meal can easily shift out of control. The firm force needed by a nurse to bind a patient to a wheelchair can turn into malicious torture at a moment’s notice.
Abuse can be as low and ugly as simple cruelty and malice, or as complex and difficult to unravel as the grief, frustration and petty acting-out of an adult child taking care of a newly childish parent. Regardless of the form, the situation demands redress.
Counseling for victims of elderly abuse is necessary when the elder is capable of participation. In those instances, the help in processing a shocking and destructive action may be needed to allow an elder to recover the courage and confidence to even try to take back what they can of their lives. In cases where the abuse was inflicted by a loved one, the need is even greater. To be abused by a child or spouse, or by a close friend or relative, not only shatters an elder’s already threatened sense of security, but tears holes in the fabric of their life and its meaning. Whether the child is returning abuse once meted out by the parent, or is acting out of frustration and confused anger, the betrayal remains a deep scar.
Many patients, however, can only be given physical treatment. If senile dementia is an operating factor, the patient may be unable to participate in therapy in any meaningful way.
However, abusers should, ideally, also receive therapy. Those who repent and want to change – and who need to understand how they came to act as they did – may be in desperate need of counseling. No form of abuse is healthy, but elderly abuse committed on a loved or respected parent can leave a lasting sense of confusion in those who found themselves acting in ways they could not have imagined until they were actually happening.
For many people, the first help they need is to break the pattern of abuse, and in these instances, the action falls on whoever is capable of bringing in help. New caretakers must be found, therapy and counseling offered to those who can make use of it. Using a good referral agency can help ensure that the care and counseling services needed are found.