EL­DERLY SHAME

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - NEWS -

MY WIFE took a fall a cou­ple of weeks ago and broke her arm. Badly. Painfully.

The next day she was zonked out on painkillers and des­per­ately tired af­ter a dis­turbed night in hos­pi­tal so my daugh­ter and I didn’t stay too long.

But as we left my daugh­ter said some­thing that has had me think­ing ever since: “Golly, mum looked old and tired when we went in.’’

Since then I have been won­der­ing just when do kids sud­denly re­alise, sud­denly ac­cept, that their par­ents are get­ting on.

I tried to re­call this mile­stone in my own life but as both my par­ents and my wife’s par­ents died rel­a­tively young this wasn’t some­thing we had ever had to con­front.

Our mo­ments of grief are now decades be­hind us but in some ways we feel for­tu­nate that we never had to come to terms with age­ing par­ents.

One died badly but the suf­fer­ing was rel­a­tively brief, we didn’t have the crush­ing fi­nan­cial and emo­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity of tak­ing them un­der our roof, we only once had to suf­fer the ag­o­nies of putting a par­ent into the care of strangers, and we didn’t have to see them suf­fer the in­dig­nity of poverty and de­pen­dence. And, most of all, we didn’t have to put to the test our own love, re­spect and pa­tience.

We didn’t have to risk those qual­i­ties turn­ing into in­tol­er­ance, im­pa­tience or con­tempt.

Yet it hap­pens with aw­ful reg­u­lar­ity and will prob­a­bly hap­pen more fre­quently as life ex­pectancy in Aus­tralia rises into the 80s.

I’m hor­ri­fied, although not en­tirely sur­prised, by the in­ci­dence of in­sti­tu­tional and do­mes­tic elder abuse in Aus­tralia.

Aged and Dis­abil­ity Ad­vo­cacy Aus­tralia es­ti­mates about 10 per cent of older Aus­tralians ex­pe­ri­ence abuse. But, that might be an un­der­state­ment, de­pend­ing on how you quan­tify abuse.

That abuse can be fi­nan­cial, le­gal, emo­tional or phys­i­cal and can range from the sub­tle to the sadis­tic.

We are reg­u­larly shocked by sto­ries of ne­glect and even phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse in res­i­den­tial homes where pen­nies are pinched and peo­ple are put on the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of bread and water di­ets.

There, at least, we have the Aus­tralian Aged Care Qual­ity Agency which, although it some­times seems in­ef­fec­tual, at least keeps some kind of watch over the aged and over those who turn a buck by car­ing for them. Not so well pro­tected are those who live in the com­mu­nity, alone or with their fam­i­lies.

There they are prey to spivs and shys­ters, im­pa­tient fam­i­lies, greedy rel­a­tives and all the other par­a­sites that hover around the weak and vul­ner­a­ble.

We’re all aware of the more sweet­words@oze­mail.com.au overt forms of abuse, rang­ing from phys­i­cal harm to fi­nan­cial blood­suck­ing. How­ever, more sub­tle is the lack of re­spect, the pa­tro­n­is­ing at­ti­tudes and the off-handed man­ner that sadly seem to be the re­ward for so many lives long lived.

It’s not al­ways easy liv­ing with older peo­ple, many of whom are not nearly as warm and love­able as we like to think.

Some, quite frankly, are pains in the neck, de­mand­ing, over­bear­ing and in­ter­fer­ing. I’m work­ing on be­ing in all three of those cat­e­gories. The scary thing is that so much that comes with old age – the good, the bad and the ugly – hap­pens be­hind closed doors.

For­tu­nately, gov­ern­ments and their agen­cies are slowly be­com­ing aware of the prob­lem and are try­ing to prise open those doors.

Can­berra and the states are work­ing on na­tion­ally con­sis­tent laws to re­spond to elder abuse.

So far it sounds lit­tle more than a talk­fest, with the plan be­ing to “bring gov­ern­ment and com­mu­nity stake­hold­ers to­gether to prop­erly ad­dress the is­sue”.

At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Chris­tian Porter says the plan’s key aims are pro­mot­ing the au­ton­omy and agency of older peo­ple; ad­dress­ing ageism and pro­mot­ing com­mu­nity un­der­stand­ing of elder abuse; achiev­ing na­tional con­sis­tency; safe­guard­ing at-risk older peo­ple and im­prov­ing re­sponses; and build­ing up the ev­i­dence ba­sis.

Nobly said but back last year, when this first started to brew, then at­tor­ney-gen­eral Ge­orge Bran­dis gave a whole $250,000 over two years to set up a peak co­or­di­na­tion and ad­vo­cacy body, Elder Abuse Ac­tion Aus­tralia.

That wouldn’t keep the par­lia­men­tary en­ti­tle­ments sys­tem tick­ing over for more than a few days.

It’s a start but we have a long way to go be­fore elder abuse grabs our at­ten­tion as child abuse did with such na­tion­chang­ing re­sults.

And, there are lim­i­ta­tions to what gov­ern­ments can achieve be­cause, as with child abuse, most elder abuse hap­pens within the fam­ily.

It’s up to in­di­vid­u­als to watch over their el­derly neigh­bours and friends, and it is up to gov­ern­ment to pro­vide an ad­e­quate re­sponse when abuse is de­tected. Whether the el­derly are alone, in care, or left to the mercy of fam­ily with all its frailties, abuse is a shabby and shame­ful re­ward at life’s end.

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