Once upon a time, the words of elders were deemed scriptural. We considered them gods. Then we started treating them with reverence. After that we treated them one among us with affection. But most of the families at present treat them to be unwanted just like the sixth finger that’s not worth keeping with us. Many aged die silently suppressing their miseries, unable to share with anyone else. All of us are aware of the child abuse. But nobody seems to be aware of the elder abuse. No one is concerned about it’. Dr VS Natarajan, Geriatric Specialist speaks about them empathetically.
As per the population census in 2011, there are 8.6% elders among the total population in India. That means, out of 121 crore people in India, 10.39 crore are elders. Helpage, a voluntary organization conducted a research in 2014. It was found that about one third of the elders are being humiliated and neglected.
Among them, about 56% are treated with contempt by their sons, 23% by their daughter-in-laws and 21% by others, including their daughters. Dr VS Natarajan, Geriatric Specialist, who has been conducting awareness campaigns against humiliation of elders and especially among the student communities, elaborates about the issue.
There are many who have been fighting against child abuse. But most of us are not aware of the humiliation meted out to the elders. Many of us consider the word abuse only related to sexual harass. Humiliating and disrespecting also amount to abuse.
In regard to child abuse, children are not aware of being mistreated. So, they are made to suffer without their knowledge. It’s one of the worst forms of violence.
But, with regard to abuse of elders, they know pretty well that they were mistreated. But they will not be able to share it with anyone else. They remain afraid of being tortured further if any of their family members, in case, came to know about what they had shared with their neighbors or doctors. That’s why they contain themselves not willing to reveal their sufferings to any others and get suffocated of it.
There are four ways of elders being abused.
Not speaking to the elders at home deliberately. Not getting them the things they ask for. Not providing them food at the right time. These kinds of disregard towards them make them suffer psychologically. For example, suppose that one’s mother-in-law does not like coconut chutney. But the daughter-in-law will prepare it willfully every day and make the mother-in-law eat it daily. Similarly, making coffee with sugar even if they don’t like to have it sugared. We can keep citing many such examples. They will suffer psychologically by all these behaviors. It can also be considered neglect of elders.
Verbal abuse includes making they suffer by words like scolding them directly or speaking to them with intimidating tone, never speaking to them with love.
This kind of abuse happens when there is dividing of property at home. Similarly, cheating them financially by others like vendors who come home to sell their goods or the maids who help at home. This also amounts to a kind of torture or abuse.
Abusive acts such as hitting them, pushing them down or pinching them amount to a kind of abuse. It happens mostly to those who suffer from dementia, a kind of forgetfulness. This kind of violence could happen in some old age homes as well. It could happen in some homes too. There are many videos showing the way the elders are being hit and tormented remain as witness to these abusive behavior.
What kind of elders is tormented?
* Elders who have no facility to be independent and therefore depend on their kids
* Those who have only one child
* Sick elders
* Those who have amassed wealth more than needed too are affected
How to find out and mitigate it?
* Elders mostly do not reveal their sufferings and violence meted out to them. The doctors should identify the signs of abuse when any elders happen to come for treatment. They should speak with the elders privately after sending their family members out. If there is an evidence of such problems doctors should speak to the family members indirectly remaining cautious not to risk the elders.
* Various kinds of awareness campaigns should be conducted at schools and colleges about the best way of treating their elders. Counseling should be given to the caretakers of elders. They should be reminded of ‘their own condition in the future when they become old’.
* We can celebrate and reward by identifying those families and their members including children who take good care of the elders at home. It paves ways for others to change their course to respectful treatment of elders too.
* Some elders tend to think that they live in loneliness. Therefore it is necessary to spend at least half an hour with them daily. They can be taken to nearby temples or places they like. They can be given something that they like. We can allow the kids at home to be with the elders, to speak with them and also play with them.
* It is important that the elders too should learn to live alone. They should be able to accept their loneliness. Above all, they should learn to love their loneliness.
Thus recommends Dr Natarajan.
Helpline for elders:
Chennai Corporation: 1253
(This artcle written in Tamil by R Senthil kumar has been reproduced in English by V Amalan Stanley)