Respecting Elders: An American Tragedy

The true measure of a society is the respect it pays to its elderly. America should be ashamed at how inadequate we measure up on this scale. We were once a society who placed the highest regard on our elders. We instinctively knew that they deserved a place of honor and that their advice should be heeded as law. At some point we as a society lost track of the importance of elders in our society. This is the only explanation for the horrific abuse that is allowed to be perpetrated upon our elderly on a daily basis. Confucius stated, “Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?” (Confucius, n.d.). Using his quote as a model, I can only assume we have lowered ourselves to the level of beasts.

Elder abuse was an unknown event forty to fifty years ago. There were isolated incidents common to all crimes, but nothing to suggest the epidemic we see now. We see an average of five million cases each year in the U.S. alone (McMillion, 2003). We went from a society that valued its elders to one that allows them to be abused on a regular basis. With reported cases to be vastly lower than actual abuse incidents due to shame or fear, the actual number of abuse cases on the elderly are sure to be much higher. Numbers, reports, and charts are all well and fine, but from personal experience as an investigator I can tell you that the actual results of elder abuse are far more atrocious than any graph could show. The abuse comes in the form of physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, as well as abuse in the form of isolation and control. The physical abuse runs the spectrum from soft hand control to broken limbs and digits. The emotional abuse includes screaming, verbal berating, and long periods of isolation. The neglect takes the form of bedsores oozing with infection and in some extreme cases parasites such as maggots. These descriptions are my first-hand accounts of cases of elder abuse I have worked in my career. Often the offenders will attempt to justify the abuse by saying they were abused by the victim when they were young, or that they are entitled to their possessions because they are the only ones taken care of the victim. Abuse is abuse, no matter how it is attempted to be portrayed as something else.

Most of the cases of abuse occur in residence facilities such as nursing or retirement homes. The abuse is committed by staff. In these cases, the staff feel overworked and underpaid and their frustration is taken out on the victims. Many of these cases go unreported due to fear and the inability of the victim to report the crime to police. A survey of police chiefs listed this as the most persistent problem encountered when responding to the epidemic of elder abuse (Payne, Berg, & Toussanint, 2001). Even when the victim has a loving and supporting family, the family cannot be on site the whole day and night. If they suspect abuse, it is difficult to collect enough evidence to prosecute.

Although this is an appalling epidemic, steps are being taken by groups to reduce the amount of abuse in America. At the urging of the American Bar Association and other groups, legislation has been written and adopted in almost all states to impose greater education, resources, and penalties to combat elder abuse (McMillion, 2003). The key to winning the war on elder abuse is education. Too many individuals are unaware that such widespread and horrific abuse is happening to our elders. The more people learn about elder abuse, the harder it will become for offenders to abuse.

Confucius. (n.d.). BrainyQuote. Retrieved November 26, 2011, from

McMillion, R. (2003). Stand up for the elderly. ABA Journal 89, 62. Retrieved November 26, 2011, from ProQuest Criminal Justice. (Document ID: 281521981)

Payne, B. K., Berg, B. L., & Toussanint, J. (2001). The police response to the criminalizaton of elder abuse: An exploratory study. Policing, 24(4), pp. 605-625. Retrieved November 26, 2011, from ProQuest Criminal Justice. (Document ID: 95499170).

Society | Sociology

QR Code
QR Code respecting_elders_an_american_tragedy (generated for current page)