In the '70s it may have been flippantly referred to as "granny bashing" but these days the acceptable term is "elder abuse". According to the Ministry of Social Development's "Elder abuse and/or neglect" literature review, "Elder abuse or neglect can be either an act of commission, in which case it is abusive, or an act of omission, in which case it is neglectful, and may be either intentional or unintentional."
Woman charged with mistreatment of elderly mother told of an especially disturbing case: "A Napier woman is facing a charge of failing to provide the necessaries of life to her elderly mother, who was found fused to her furniture and a blanket after apparently being confined to a couch for at least three years ... Ambulance crews ... discovered the elderly woman on the couch, her leg fixed to a footstool as maggots dropped to the floor."
In 2008 an Auckland rest-home worker taped an elderly resident's mouth shut while The centenarian who fought back told of a woman posing as a long-lost relative who stole money using the victim's eftpos card. According to Twilight years can be hell for the elderly, there are more than 1600 allegations of elder abuse each year - but Age Concern describes these reported cases as "just the tip of the iceberg".
"Many cases reported in New Zealand involve more than one form of abuse. Most (62 per cent) involve psychological abuse. Up to half have an element of financial or material abuse, including the theft of money or property. About 20 per cent involve physical abuse, and a further 20 per cent are of people being neglected."
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Age Concern's website documents case studies in which elderly people are harassed by neighbours and bullied by staff at a residential care facility. There are also instances of family members demanding possessions, coercing money - and living rent-free in an aged person's home without contributing to the household. In one story a family member claimed the woman being abused was "a difficult person and had been a hard and strict mother, which was why her children no longer visited her".
A Canadian health website lists some factors that may be associated with elder abuse, including: the caregiver's mental health problems, situational stress, social isolation - and "transgenerational family violence" which sees "children from a long history of family violence 'getting back at' a parent".
Suggested ways in which an elderly person can reduce his or her chances of being abused are included on a US website http://www.helpguide.org devoted to providing "Expert, Ad-Free Resources" to those in need. They include: "Make sure your financial and legal affairs are in order" and "Keep in touch with family and friends and avoid becoming isolated, which increases your vulnerability to elder abuse."
Although institutional abuse does exist, evidence suggests that elder abuse mainly occurs in a domestic setting and, according to the Ministry of Social Development's paper "[a]dult children constitute most of the perpetrators of domestic abuse". Also, the abused person "often live[s] with the perpetrator, who is likely to be financially dependent."
As outlined in Why won't the kids leave home?, I'm an advocate for adult children leaving home to gain independence and build their own lives. Cynics would suggest there's now yet another reason to encourage them to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society: so they're less likely to feel the urge to return home to opportunistically sponge off and exploit their vulnerable elderly parents.
What's your perspective on elder abuse? Do you know of any cases? What can be done to prevent it?