Neglected, Mistreated, and Elderly

AS HE made his rounds, the night watchman was not prepared for the chilling sight that awaited him. There, just outside a plush residential complex, he came upon two lifeless bodies​—an elderly married couple who had leaped from the window of their eighth-floor apartment. As shocking as their suicide was, their motive was even more jarring. A note found in the husband’s pocket stated: “We are ending our lives because of constant abuses and harassment from our son and daughter-in-law.”

The details of this story may be unusual, but the underlying issue is disturbingly common. Indeed, mistreatment of the elderly infects virtually every part of the globe. Consider the following:

• In one study, 4 percent of Canadian seniors reported being abused or exploited​—usually by a family member. However, many seniors are too ashamed or too afraid to talk about their plight. The true figure may be closer to 10 percent, experts say.

• “The Indian nation, beneath its facade of strong family ties, is crumbling under a rising number of elderly people who are unwanted by their children,” reports the magazine India Today.

• According to the best available estimates, “between 1 and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection,” says the National Center on Elder Abuse. A deputy district attorney in San Diego, California, calls elder abuse “one of the most serious issues facing law enforcement today.” He adds: “I see the problem magnifying over the next few years.”

• In Canterbury, New Zealand, there is growing concern that the elderly are being targeted by family members​—particularly those with drug, alcohol, or gambling problems. The number of reported cases of elder abuse in Canterbury rose dramatically from 65 in 2002 to 107 in 2003. The chief executive of an agency that has been set up to prevent such mistreatment says that this figure may represent just the “tip of the iceberg.”

 • The Japan Federation of Bar Associations advised that “elderly victims need to receive even more attention than victims of child abuse or other domestic violence,” reports The Japan Times. Why? One reason, says the Times, is that “compared with child or spouse abuse, abuse of the elderly tends to take longer to surface, in part because the elderly feel responsible when the violence is inflicted by their offspring, and also because the government and local administrators have so far failed to address the problem.”

This brief sampling of what is happening around the world causes us to ask: Why are so many older ones being neglected and mistreated? Is there any hope that things will improve? What comfort is there for the elderly?