Respect for Our Canadian Elders

Consider these scenarios: a senior woman gives power of attorney to her son, who takes her life savings and moves to another province; a 74-year-old widower with a disability lives with an alcoholic daughter who routinely threatens to harm him or take his money; or, a senior, dependent upon residential care, goes unchanged and unfed for days.

Every year we celebrate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. June 15th is now recognized worldwide as the day people consider and value the dignity of our senior citizens.

This day was made possible because of a meeting in Madrid in April 2002, when representatives from the world community met together and adopted the United Nations International Plan of Action on Ageing (INPEA). The initiative was aimed at identifying and addressing the global abuse of senior populations.

Canada has responded aggressively and has quickly become recognized as a world leader in raising public awareness of the abuse of older adults.

My wife and I are grateful that both sets of our parents have had long and prosperous lives and have lived close to our family. We are able to see them weekly (sometimes daily) and monitor their physical and emotional health. It is an honor to be able to be a part of their lives and watch them “grow” old.

They have also shared with us the blessing of having family around to take care of some of the things they are no longer able to do for themselves. I know that a visit from one of the grandchildren does wonders for their day. But I know that there are many seniors who do not have this luxury of family close by. Many do feel a growing defenselessness.

And, for good reason! Canada Stats estimate that between 168,000 and 421,000 seniors in Canada are experiencing or have experienced abuse or neglect in later years of life. It is a tragedy that an estimated 80% of abuse or neglect of older adults goes undetected, and therefore, unreported.

Some allegations of abuse do reach the papers, like the one reported against some elderly residents of the 80-bed Beacon Hill Villa in Victoria. Premier Gordon Campbell, to his credit, has issued warnings that quality-of-care requirements better be observed. documented that “as elders become more physically frail, they’re less able to stand up to bullying and or fight back if attacked. They may not see or hear as well or think as clearly as they used to, leaving openings for unscrupulous people to take advantage of them.”

And, there are unscrupulous people out there, preying upon our seniors, physically, verbally, emotionally and financially. Unfortunately, many of these acts of abuse are perpetrated by adult children from family. It is also true that older women were found to be more likely than their male counterparts to be victims of family violence.

This is a sad state of affairs, and speaks to the self-centeredness of this generation. I am so aware of the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping: how one generation treats the aged may come back to bite them when they are facing their own twilight years. It is critical that we do unto others as we would desire they do to us. There is no better time to start living this moral axiom out than right now.

This issue is not going to go away anytime soon. Our Canadian population is aging. The baby boomers are no longer babies. Our senior population is becoming a significant percentage of what constitutes Canada, and they are in need of care with dignity.

I highly recommend, if you are an adult child of a senior still living, that you visit the site and look at the signs and symptoms of specific types of abuse. They are outlined clearly.