I spend every Tuesday morning visiting a dear friend at a local nursing home. My friend is a Holocaust survivor and at 90 years old, her mind is sharp since she easily recounts the story of her life – from the horrors of the camps to the beauty of Israel and finally to the hard work, freedom, and challenges of America. As I am ready to leave her and return to school each week, a look of loneliness washes over the smile on her face and I am reminded that her only other visitors are nurses and her daughter who can visit once a week.
The elderly comprise a significant amount of the U.S. population and statistics indicate that 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 each day for the next 15 years. As the U.S. population ages, older adults are often viewed in a negative light, and hence a target group for all kinds of abuse: physical, sexual, verbal and financial exploitation. It is estimated that a shocking 500,000 older adults are abused each year in the United States, with family members as the overwhelming majority of abusers (mainly partners and children of the individual). Most of these cases go unreported because the victim does not have the physical capability or mental capacity to inform an official of the mistreatment.
Elder abuse is a major issue currently plaguing Israel as well. A report by the University of Haifa indicated that 18 percent of elderly participants were subject to some form of abuse. The most common form is verbal abuse, indicating a potential problem in interpersonal relationships as people age. Verbal abuse may also be used as a method to instill terror and power in a relationship, lending the way to more types of abuse.
Many religions teach people to respect and revere the elderly. In short, an individual’s exterior does not properly convey the depth of its contents. My dear friend appears to be a frail old woman with a failing body but her mind is very active. The elderly are people above all else and they deserve to be treated as such.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that everyone will grow old one day. With this in mind, I urge you to take some time and think about giving back by volunteering with a senior in your area. You may be the only contact the person has with the outside world beside the caregiver, and can advocate on their behalf if you suspect abuse. For U.S. residents, visit Give Back to Seniors to search for volunteer opportunities in your community.
Linda Nakagawa is a rising senior at Brandeis University. She is a double major in Psychology and Politics with a minor in Social Justice Social Policy. Linda is originally from Newburgh, New York and is a member of Temple Beth Jacob. As a Machon Kaplan participant, Linda was a public policy intern at the National Association of States United for Aging and Disability.