I have always felt like anyone who could abuse a child, an older person, or an animal has no heart.  Yesterday, March 2nd, it took a very small man to stand up and talk about a very large problem: elder abuse.  Mickey Rooney, age 90, spoke before a Senate Special Committee on Aging, and described his experience of suffering from abuse for several years by his stepson and his stepson’s wife.  In February, Rooney won a restraining order against them, following claims that they were attempting to get him to sign over control of his assets, and leaving him fearing for his safety.  He said he had suffered in silence because he was embarrassed to admit this was happening to him, but has to speak out for millions of seniors who are suffering, as well.   Following the hearing, the committee chair, Senator Herb Kohl, introduced legislation that would create an Office of Elder Justice to help coordinate law enforcement response to chronic abuse of the aged. 

There are so many different ways that elderly persons can be abused:

  • Financial – unauthorized use of funds, property, misuse of personal checks, credit cards, accounts, stolen cash, household goods, forging signatures, identity theft, investment fraud, and phone scams, to name only a few.
  • Physical – use of force, restraints, hitting, shoving, inappropriate use of drugs, and confinement.
  • Emotional – verbal intimidation such as threats, yelling, ridicule.  Nonverbal psychological abuse such as ignoring, isolating them from friends or activities, terrorizing or menacing. 

An older person may begin showing signs of mental deterioration, but we shouldn’t dismiss this on the word of the caregiver or facility (if they are in a nursing home, etc.).  If there is tension between caregivers and the patient, it may be because something is going on that they are not able to tell anyone.  Watch for bruises, scars, broken bones, sprains, broken eyeglasses or frames, or signs of being restrained.  Older people may be being mistreated in their own home, the home of their children, a private care facility, hospital, or nursing home.  If you notice any of these signs, you must get involved.  An expert in this subject, who appeared on CNN News today, says that for every person that comes forward, there are approximately 23 that haven’t been heard about.  That’s a frightening statement. 

None of us are able to reverse our age – we are all headed in the same direction.  Hopefully, if we live to be 90 years old, our minds will still be as sharp as Mickey Rooney’s.  He was clear in what he had to say, and said it with a sincere heart.  Regardless of laws that are passed, there has to be something done at every level to improve the status of our elderly.  We as individuals can volunteer to visit them, substitute for a family caregiver who needs a break, or be an ombudsman for the elderly.  Every older person has a great story to tell; some may not remember what happened yesterday, but they can recount stories from their childhood and never miss a detail.  Many know every word to the old gospel songs, and sing them with great pride.  Don’t count the older generations out.  For those who still have their parents, treasure every moment.  They were there for you, and you should do the same for them.  You may not be able to take care of them, but you can find someone who will be responsible for their well-being and care for them in a loving way.  That’s all anyone can ask. 

In most states, the first agency to respond to elder abuse reports is Adult Protective Services.  Information and referral is also available from National Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.