In the United States of America, there are laws specifically to protect the old and the elderly in society. One of such laws is Elder Abuse. Elder Abuse is a repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within a relationship in which against expectation of trust, harm or distress was caused to an older person. In 2002, the World Health Organization addressed the issue of abusive acts against the elderly in particular by the caregivers. Elder abuse is prominent between the elderly, and the spouse, family members, friends and neighbors. June 15 has been declared as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by the International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA). The federal and state governments, the District of Columbia, and some territories have statutes to protect older adults from physical abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and abandonment. Some states are more stringent than others in their laws to protect the elderly.
It is mandatory in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Washington and Virginia to report any known elder abuse when it occurs. It is an offense if those required to report any form of elder abuse (including suspicion) fail to do so. In California, elder abuse can be both criminal and civil. Criminal elder abuse occurs when a person knows that the victim is an elder, then willfully causes or permits that elder to suffer, or inflicts unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on the elder. It is interesting that one of the probable indications that elderly abuse has occurred is in the case of abandonment. There is real and implied abandonment in our society regarding the elderly. It will be interesting to know how abandonment is proved and what constitutes abandonment of an elder.
Why are the elderly protected in society? Elders are known to be prone to memory problems (such as dementia), physical disabilities, many old age-related illnesses, and some of them are placed on medications that affect their sense of judgement. It is a known fact from ancient days that when a man or woman gets to a tender age, he or she often turns to a baby who requires the attention and care of a strong and alert adult. In addition, old people are known to be valuable assets to the community. Though some people wrongly see the old and elderly as liabilities to societies, they are the custodians of our history, heritage and to a large extent our values. The Bible, the Word of God gives many reasons why our old should not be discarded like an old towel.
Job, in his days, understood the value of old age when he said: “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. (Job 12:12). Solomon, the wisest king ever known on earth said: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Prov. 16:31). He also said that “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair” (Prov. 20:29). Once upon a time, there was a Jewish King, Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. He ignored the counsel of the old people and it cost him his kingdom (1 Kings 12:6). Therefore, those who crafted our laws and regulations must have had the words of God in mind so as to place a high importance on the elderly. A nation that loses her elderly would enter into the court of confusion where no wisdom is available. That is why our world is going down fast for the worse.
In the ongoing pandemic that ravaged the world, it is sad that the biggest casualties in fatalities in the United States of America are our older men and women. About one third of those who lost their lives in America are the elderly in the nursing homes. Only God can tell how much wisdom and assets the nation lost in the process. But the sad thing about it is that they probably died in the facilities when they should not have, and no one can be held accountable under the many laws in the books of the governments. It is also sad because very few people seemed to reason or be bordered about the situation as it appeared it was turned to political rhetoric.
Why are these old people in the facilities? Whose responsibility was it to care for them? Where are their children? If they have children, how did they end up in the facilities? From my understanding and discussions with people, these are some of the reasons these people ended up in the nursing homes. There are elderly people whose children are also old and possibly cannot take good care of themselves, much less their old parents. There are those who have no surviving children and end up in the facilities, and there are some whose children’s marriages do not give room for such care – either the husband is opposed to it or the wife does not fancy the idea of keeping old people in their homes. And these are serious family issues that we don’t bargain for but come. Sadly however, in America, the presence of the facilities has given some children a way to abandon their responsibilities of taking care of their old fathers and mothers. Some people claim they cannot combine their jobs and their children with caring for their parents. But they had ways to accommodate other things in their lives. It’s just an issue of priority.
As an African-born American, I know it is not part of African culture to take our parents to facilities no matter how difficult it is to keep them with us. Some old man and woman that have no children would probably find brothers’ children or sisters’ children who would elect to take care of them until their days on earth are over. In some African countries, thankfully to God, the facilities are not available to keep and abandon our old parents. The parents and sometimes single parents spend their strong early life to ensure that the children do well. The energy often becomes totally depleted in the process of seeing their children grow. The same children determine that the best place for the old parents to continue life is in a facility home. Parents are now in a new home, with strangers, sometimes new people, impossible characters, and new experiences with trauma. Often, the old people are left in the hands of ungodly people who themselves have personal issues they are also struggling with. One example was the young man in the Michigan facility who unleashed his own issues on the hapless 75 year-old-man.
It is often very heart-broken to see our old man or woman left to manage late life frustrations, depressions and mental tortures without adequate support. The word of God says, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32). I recognize that there are cases of parents who did not have a good relationship with their children or are estranged from one another. Certainly, this can be very troubling and humanly difficult to handle. But it does not change the fact of parent and children relationship. What is required in this situation is a heart to forgive. “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Forgiveness is a godly virtue which is beneficial to both the offended and the offender. It removes pain and grudges from the heart and creates lasting happiness. As children of our parents who succeeded them, we should take that Godly path of compassion and take appropriate measures that reduce old age pains for our elderly.
The current culture of taking our old people to facilities without our personal concerted efforts to help them as they did to us when we were young and when we needed them is a questionable, ungodly and ungrateful act. This process of putting old people in a home should no longer be regarded as normal; the process requires some form of reformation from the depth of human hearts. Let us pay and give back to our elderly and not put or abandon them in facilities, where they have to start life all over in pain and distress. Facilities should be stopgaps for difficult care which will be short-term and not for a long period or life. Some people have taken it to be auspices for their parents. No one can better care for your parents than you. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). It was one of the early and important commandments. “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father….: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:3). I do not mean to criticize or anger anyone which this article may generate, but rather as a food for thought if we mean well for our parents. For those who just lost their parents particularly to the pandemic, I am so sorry for your loss. Sadly, we cannot do anything about that anymore. But we can speak to the conscience of those who still have their parents alive.