By Tippy Irwin
I was recently approached by my priest at church who was somewhat concerned about an elderly woman who has been worshiping at the church for many years. About 5 years ago her husband passed away. The couple had no children, but the wife has a very extensive network of relatives. Coming from Central America, their cultural norms are so very different from ours. For starters, there is much more reverence for the elderly than we see practiced in this country. A niece and her husband gently picked up on the care of this aging parishioner, who was by now showing signs of dementia. They moved her in to an apartment in the same building where they lived, watched over her, transported her and generally remained close. However, it came the notice of our priest that they had used her money to purchase a car for themselves. Financial elder abuse? After some discussion we determined that neither he nor I felt that it fell into such a category. This young couple, had every intention of providing for her as she continued to age, keeping her in the bosom of the family, so to speak. And so it has been till today. When the time comes and the need arises I fully expect that our elderly parishioner will be moved in to live with this younger, caring couple.
Mary Twomey tells the following tale from her blog published by the National Center for Elder Abuse:
“Several years ago, I received a call at work from an older Chinese woman. She told me that she was being abused. Of course, I was concerned and asked her about the situation. She disclosed that she was being cared for by her second son because her first son refused to provide that care. This, to her, was elder abuse. She was otherwise receiving the care she needed, just not from the person she needed. I doubt that I was very helpful to the caller that day because, to me, what she was describing didn’t fit into my picture of abuse. Writing this today, I feel her sadness and shame and I wish I had chosen to be more helpful to her. This story is validated by research conducted by Dr. Aileen Moon at UCLA. When Dr. Moon asked older Asians which type of maltreatment hurt the most, they stated strongly that emotional abuse was the most damaging of all abuse types. In California, to cite just one state’s law, emotional abuse is not a mandatory report.”
Mary goes on to report that in some communities, older adults use their financial resources to support many generations of relatives who are not themselves contributing to the upkeep of the household. To many, this looks and feels like financial exploitation, and, in some cases it is. However, in other cases, many older minority elders would disagree.
More and more keenly I am aware that one size does not fit all. Much of the work we do in the realm of aging and elder abuse is in a gray area. The older I get the more difficulty I have in sorting our right from wrong. What in my younger days seemed clearly black or white, is now clouded and not quite so clear cut.