Elder Discrimination & Abuse

08/08/2017 02:59 pm ET Updated Aug 09, 2017

Recently, I had an extremely unfortunate experience at a Hyundai dealership which brought to mind the topics of “discrimination” and “abuse”. While I’m not yet “elderly”, I am an eldercare expert, advocate for the elderly, and eldercare author-so in an effort to “make lemonade out of lemons” I’ve decided to explore the topics of discrimination and abuse as they relate to the elderly and hopefully turn a vile personal experience into something helpful to others.

Most people hear the word “discrimination” and their first thought is of the vicious, humiliating and hateful history of RACIAL discrimination. The stigma of the words “racism” and “racist” are so toxic and once attached so permanent, that people quickly disassociate themselves from the person or business that carries the branding. This is especially true in the “internet-age” with the speed, viral nature, and permanence of social media.

The national news media’s always voracious appetite for stories involving racism and recently sexism (see Silicon Valley) may have unintentionally removed focus from another important “ism” – Ageism. Ageism is “prejudice against the elderly” and can manifest in either the form of abuse or discrimination. Right now in the United States over 10,000 people per day turn 65-with a then life expectancy of 20+ years. With such a rapidly expanding demographic this will become a significant cultural issue in the coming decades.

Given that ageism is commonplace and recent surveys indicate most people are unfamiliar with its sometimes unique manifestations please see below for a few examples that may not immediately come to mind:

  • Medical–frequently elderly persons complain about aches & pains to medical professionals and are told “your ___ years old, you have to expect those things at your age”. This casual approach to the older patient’s complaint is a form of ageism. It can also allow the original condition to worsen, or be a missed opportunity to discover and treat a more serious illness related to the original pain. These are two reasons Geriatric Medicine (exclusive focus on the elderly) has come to prominence. Anyone 65+ should add a geriatric physician to their team of medical professionals. Also, worth noting, elderly people frequently adopt the same attitudes and believe pain is naturally associated with age. This mentality can lead to significant medical problems and unnecessary suffering.
  • Psychological–comments about a person’s age are common and can come from many sources. They can be intentionally mean spirited comments from rude kids trying to hurry an older person out of the way or from “playful” co-workers referring to a colleague as “pops” or “grandma”. Whatever the motivation these comments can cause mental and emotional pain for an older person.
  • Work Place -the unemployment/underemployed rate of people 55+ is north of 12% while overall unemployment is approximately 4.5%. The job market has steadily improved but older people still have a much more difficult time finding suitable work-especially women. Research indicates there are multiple reasons but the most common is that older people are not hired because it’s assumed they’ll be unreliable due to medical issues. FYI, statistics suggest the opposite is actually true.

Unfortunately, some of the worst abusers are people with the title of “caregiver”. 1-in-10 elderly people living at home is the victim of abuse, neglect or exploitation. Spouses, former spouses, children, and other family members are the most likely perpetrators in cases of domestic abuse.

  • Domestic Abuse-is all about power over the elder and control of their decisions. While similar to domestic abuse of younger people (typically women), it’s unique in that the elder victim may be 100% reliant on their abuser for food or medicine. There are great programs exclusively designed to protect and shelter elderly abuse victims. The best in the country might be the Weinberg Center For Elder Abuse Prevention https://www.weinberg-center.org/ which is affiliated with RiverSpring Health.

As society becomes more sensitive to this “ism” and its many manifestations fewer older people will suffer this type of discrimination and abuse. Social media informs and shapes perceptions so please share this article with your FB friends or tweet it out to your networks. Thank you.

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