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     Volume 5 Issue 88 | March 31, 2006 |

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Straight Talk

Old Age can be Painful

Nadia Kabir Barb

Margaret Smith is a sweet old lady in her late seventies. She just moved in with her daughter and son-in-law six months ago because she recently found it hard to look after herself and needed someone to care for her. A nursing home was not an option as there was not enough money to send her to one so her daughter took her in. To the undiscerning eye, she always seems to have a smile on her face and appears to be lost in her own thoughts. Therefore you are not particularly surprised that she is very quiet and does not talk too much with other people. However, if you look a little closer, you will find that beyond the smile there lies a sense dread or maybe even fear in her eyes. Sudden movements startle her. But a fear of what? If you were to roll up her sleeve you might notice the bruise on her right forearm or the cut on her forehead. She managed to acquire these courtesy of her son-in-law when he grabbed her and slammed her against the wall thus hitting her head on the corner of a kitchen cabinet. The reason being that the mug she had been drinking her tea from had slipped out of her hand and broken.

Shocking? Definitely. But sadly this kind of maltreatment is something that happens more frequently than we would like to believe. No matter how much we would like to disbelieve it, the abuse of elderly people is quite widespread and in many cases this is perpetrated by someone in their own family or someone who acts as their carer. In the UK, the author Daniel Blake, of a report commissioned from a leading charity by the Department of Health said: '…that many older vulnerable adults are being harmed in their own homes by people in the family. Most of the abuse will remain unreported because people are too frightened, ashamed or embarrassed to do so.' Also in the majority of cases the victims are women.

Abuse of the elderly can take many forms, starting from neglect to mental and physical abuse that can sometimes lead to injuries that require hospitalisation. Also one cannot point a finger and say it is an Eastern or Western phenomenon as it happens everywhere. When we talk about neglect we mean the lack of provision of 'food, water, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medicine, comfort, personal safety, and other essentials' that are necessary to for the general wellbeing of a person. In many households the additional mouth to feed becomes a burden and may lead to the elderly parent or relative in question being given one meal a day or being deprived of the required medication.

Mental abuse is just as horrific. How terrifying must it be when you are no longer able to fend for yourself and are at the mercy of other people even if they are family? Can you imagine constantly being under a barrage of verbal abuse, shouting and screaming, threats of physical abuse or just being isolated from the rest of the family or from outside contact and even abandonment? It is traumatising for the recipient of this kind of emotional and psychological abuse. Sometimes this kind of mental abuse can as distressing and painful as physical abuse especially if you have no one to confide in. If many cases it becomes shameful to admit that they are being mistreated by their own family members. In Bangladesh I am sure there are a countless number of cases where parents who are dependent on their offspring are treated with disrespect and are taunted and ridiculed by their son in law, daughter in law or even their own children because they are no longer able to care for themselves.

Physical abuse can be defined as the use of physical force that can result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment. This type of abuse 'may include but is not limited to such acts of violence as striking (with or without an object), hitting, beating, pushing, shoving, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, and burning.' It is not hard to lose our temper about even the most trivial of issues and for some people it is easy to take out their anger and frustration on those who are not physically able to defend themselves, who are under their control and therefore have no recourse to outside help. There are many Margaret Smiths out there who have to hide in a world of their own to try and forget the abuse they are required to endure everyday. It is not just in the home that this abuse takes place. In many Nursing homes the residents are mistreated and neglected by their carers as well. A twist of the arm to get a patient to comply with the attendant or using a bit of force while holding the patients face to get them to swallow their medication is not unheard of. If we were to be a fly on the wall in some homes, who knows what atrocities we would be witness to behind closed doors.

In the UK people may say that it is the system that fails these elderly people who are abused but in my mind it is society who should take responsibility. Sometimes we see injustice and look the other way because it is not convenient for us to get involved. It may due to the fact that we know the people who are participants of this kind of cruelty and are embarrassed to address the issue. But what kind of justification is that? Maybe we need to stop behaving like ostriches by burying our head in the sand and take on a little bit of accountability. People spend most of their lives caring and providing for their children and what a reward it is for them that at the end all that they should be subjected to humiliation, degradation and suffering. How we treat our parents or elders will directly or indirectly be imbibed into our children. How we treat them is the way we ourselves are likely to be treated when we are no longer in control of our faculties or are unable to look after ourselves. You must have heard of the saying 'what goes around comes around'...

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