Are our elderly so badly off, Mr Sealey?

Anyone who has lived with an elderly relative knows it is not the easiest thing in the world to deal with sometimes, and that it calls for a high level of tolerance –– on both sides. Indeed, the elder might even find it harder to live with the younger relative, on whom he or she grows increasingly dependent with the approach of their twilight years.

It is one of the most cruel tricks of nature which many still wish they could avoid. But that persons, especially flesh and blood relations, could descend to the level of elderly abuse which the chairman of the National Assistance Board, Cephus Sealey, spoke to this past weekend is not only shocking, but a downright shame!

Addressing a church service on Sunday marking Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Mr Sealey warned that elder abuse  was not a joke, or an issue to be taken lightly. In fact, he said it was now “a 365-day occurrence”.

Our immediate thought was that the NAB chairman, who has spent some time living overseas, could not be talking about Barbados; but then he went on to tell of his personal experiences, saying he would not be surprised “if such an occurrence confronts an elderly Barbadian every quarter of an hour in any given day, hourly, weekly, monthly”.

Even more shocking were his comments pertaining to sexual abuse of our elderly.

“This is a hidden secret, which forms part of elder abuse,” Mr Sealey said, adding that “their shame, dependency, and threat causes this soul-wrenching experience to go unreported”.

He continued: “Some grannies refuse to eat, get up; pray for their death; commit suicide after years of abuse through drug overdose directly or mixing drugs; increasing their intake of medication due to abject social alienation; pretend being ill to secure more medication; deliberately falling and experiencing serious physical injury, which goes unreported.

“Some even cross busy streets where the possibility of being struck is high,” he said.

Really, Mr Sealey? We don’t mean to sound like doubting Thomases, or to appear as if we are burying our heads in the sand, but such claims, as serious as they are, need to be backed up by statistical evidence since they would suggest to us that, nationally, we are not all on the same page in terms of the status of our elderly.

We are quite aware that it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a bed of roses for our aged folk. From time to time, we are our ourselves forced to highlight the reports we get of their abuse. There has been the story of a woman calling the authorities to pick up an apparently wandering elderly lady stuck on the doorsteps of a neighbourhood, but who turned out to be the mother of the caller who had left the island. Yet, the general sense we get is that the problem is not widespread. This is not to say that any form of abuse should be tolerated, or that one case is not one too many; but that we need to set the situation in its right national context, taking into account the fact that so many of our elderly seem to be living much longer these days, generally in better health and with memory and wit intact.

By Sealey’s own definition, elder abuse covers a wide area, from “when mummy has to provide for her children’s children” to the very disturbing behaviour which follows the use of illegal drugs.

“Likewise, when grandma must sleep with her jewellery, money tied to her at night, and a child or grandchild wrestles away her money, and she begs, pleads do not and cries all night, that is elder abuse.

“Leaving an elder dependent person in soiled clothing or on a soiled mattress is absolutely elder abuse. Threatening to with draw affection, help of any sort to the elderly dependent person is abuse. Compelling the vulnerable elderly to sign over their pension cheque and assets to you is abuse.”

To this we say, it is time for statistics to set the way forward for Government legislation to protect and prosecute perpetrators of elder abuse. Maybe, Mr Sealey’s NAB can get the ball rolling.

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