Much is written and publicised about terrible acts of elder abuse both nationally and overseas, highlighting a form of domestic abuse that – until quite recently – has been hidden behind closed doors, largely due the fear and sense of shame felt by the victims.
This abhorrent form of domestic violence is described as: “…any behaviour that causes harm or distress to an older person, inflicted by someone they should reasonably be expected to trust. Elder abuse can be physical, emotional or financial. It can be a one-off occurrence or it can happen repeatedly over a period of time. It includes different forms of abuse, neglect and exploitation, both intentional and unintentional”.
But what happens when our elders abuse those caring for them, or those looking out for their welfare, while they remain independent?
My husband and I have found ourselves in this very predicament. And in researching how to manage it, I have discovered we are not the only ones at a loss over what to do.
* Bringing elder abuse into the light
* Funding shortfall for NZ’s elder abuse sector putting people at risk
* Elder abuse soars as country’s vulnerable targeted
Many cases involve people directly caring for elderly relatives being abused or accused of wrongdoing by other family members. We have found ourselves in the direct path of wrongful accusations made directly by our aged family member, while being in the unenviable position of being the only immediate family in the same town (even region) as them.
This relative is well into their twilight years, has multiple significant health issues, a diminishing ability to manage their house and an inability to accept they are no longer safe behind the wheel.
It wasn’t always like this.
In fact, it all changed very quickly after we called an ambulance when we were concerned that they had become very unsteady and were showing signs of confusion. This resulted in a couple of days in hospital and their driver’s licence being revoked on medical grounds.
Since we called the ambulance this was, of course, our fault. Our relationship has been in rapid decline since. Accusations of exaggerating “minor parking difficulties”, causing them to lose their licence, has rapidly descended into a form of paranoid delusion where we have created a situation where they are now being “persecuted” by transport authorities and insurance companies.
Phone calls to other family members are being made by this relative complaining that we have cost them their licence. They say while they can fight to get their licence reinstated by proving their good health (chronic heart failure, lung disease, digestive problems – the list goes on…), they cannot fight our “damaging hearsay” and it is time for family members to pick sides.
“If you don’t support me you are on ‘their’ side.”
At this point I must clarify that our relative had been an exceptional driver for many years, but in the past few years has significantly declined to the point where no-one wants to be their passenger.
By “minor parking difficulties”, our relative is explaining their ability to hit anything sitting on the side of the road while attempting to park – trees, power boxes, even a house.
But, of course, that is because of the shoes they were wearing, the wrong prescription or style of glasses they were sold by the optometrist, the blind spot while driving, sunstrike – you name it, we’ve heard it!
As for reversing into things, they just forget that fences, trucks, cars, and bollards might be there – so much for their new reversing camera.
By the way – they are still driving!
We have received a phone call from a company that had us as an alternative contact for our relative. This company had received an irrational, abusive phone call accusing them of trying to rip them off for more money. The call with our relative ended with instruction to cancel their contract with the company.
Many similar calls have been made to other companies and agencies recently and when asked about the phone calls, rather than contrition there is a ready admission to giving whichever company copped the latest wrath “a good serve”. And there is boasting about having people in tears for trying to rip them off. When shown that they are in the wrong the response is immediate and without apology: “There is obviously something wrong in the system when things aren’t clear at the start.”
* Wounds evidence of ‘one of the worst’ cases of elder abuse seen by health professional
* Taranaki couple jailed for neglect of elderly victim
* Father, 85, speaks of daughter’s betrayal: ‘I never dreamt that she would do it’
Our relative is becoming more irascible and impossible to reason with by the day. Their physical health is rapidly failing and we can’t help them or even keep an eye on them any more. What is worse is that even after spreading malicious gossip and lies about us, they don’t hesitate to phone and ask for favours with a voice so sugary sweet it is sickening – even more so after having false accusations thrown at us both directly and indirectly.
Going back to the definition of elder abuse and the forms it may take – “physical, emotional or financial”– I can honestly say there is no abuse of any form from us towards our relative, but we are feeling the results of the ongoing mental and emotional abuse aimed at us.
The cost to our emotional, mental and physical health is huge. People advise us to pull back and we have, but given the physical and now somewhat questionable mental health of our relative, there is only so far we can remove ourselves before we are then considered to be neglectful.
We are a loving, caring couple, caught in the nightmare that is being the only immediate family available to supervise the welfare of an ageing, ailing and raging elderly parent.
Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.
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