Elder abuse is a growing problem in the United States. The U.S. House of Representatives estimates that 1.5 million people over the age of 60 are abused each year — 84 percent by a relative, who usually lives with them and is being financially supported by them.
How can seniors keep from becoming part of these statistics?
• Remain sociable as you age. Isolation often results in abuse. If you must move into a relative's home or make other living arrangements, don't lose contact with old friends and neighbors and keep going to church.
• Maintain your own telephone and mail service. When living with someone else, insist on the right to use a phone whenever you want. Consider having your own separate phone line and number. Don't let anyone open your mail for you, even if they're just trying to be thoughtful. If you prefer help in this area, ask them to help you occasionally, watching to make sure they do not take over your affairs.
• Don't let anyone keep details of your finances or property management from you.
• Don't excuse an abuser. Frustrations and fears may tempt anyone to act unseemly at times, but no abusive behavior should be tolerated. Do not justify abuse with: It's my fault; I should have been a better parent; or I should be a better spouse. The person has made a bad choice, and he or she should not be allowed to do so again.
• If a grandchild, child, spouse or someone else gets physically abusive, call the police. Do not give them a chance to sleep it off and do not make excuses for the person. You are not doing the individual a favor by covering up abuse. The person needs help and won't get it as long as you shield him or her.
• Maintain your dignity and be true to yourself. Do not allow someone to show disrespect in tone or attitude. Tolerating mild forms of disrespect or abuse can lead to more severe forms.
• If you're concerned that someone may be abusive or you don't like having a child or grandchild so dependent on you, talk to a friend, pastor or counselor. Telling someone may become a vital protection for you later.
• Have a plan of action in mind for the possibility that something might occur. Have an emergency number handy, or a friend to call. And don't forget 911 — call the police for help in an emergency situation.
(You can find ways to minister to 55+ seniors and resources available to them in the Aug. 24, 2006 print edition. Subscribe at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 573-635-5939, ext. 201.)