The Androscoggin Elder Abuse Task Force sponsored an essay contest for local high school seniors in recognition of Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15. Students were invited to submit an 800 word essay on the topic “What is elder abuse and why does it matter to you?” Winners were selected by a committee of the task force, and the following is the first place entry.

By Lucas Rushton

Elder abuse is a topic that is very close to my heart because of the tight relationship I have with my own grandparents, especially my Nana.

I am also aware of elder abuse because of my Mom, who has been an RN for more than 20 years. She has witnessed instances of elder abuse as a case manager and nurse, and shared her outrage and heartbreak.

The abuse comes from many realms of society and is not relegated to the lower socio-economic class, as one might think. It involves family, friends, neighbors and persons of authority.

My definition of elder abuse is any action or activity, through malicious behavior, that reduces an elderly person’s ability to enjoy life. The Internet (elderlyabuse.org.uk) defines elder abuse as, “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.”

There have been many documented cases of elder abuse, both in Maine and nationally. Financial elder abuse is among the most common forms because elders can be reached through email, phone calls or even in person. There have been many documented scams brought to light by media.

One example is the fixer-upper scam where alleged contractors convince elderly that costly repairs are required to their homes.

Another example is when family members convince elderly family members either to give up their homes or to hand over control of their finances. The family member will then slowly drain the elderly victims of money, leaving them stranded and unable to pay for medications or food. To me, form of abuse seems particularly heinous.

My own Nana has been scammed over the telephone with information taken from her Facebook account. Fortunately, she called my Mom and questioned the validity, which prevented a monetary loss she could not afford.

To betray the trust of those who love you, depend upon you and trust you is among the worst of all evils. One of the things that is particularly sad is when a family member takes medications from elderly relatives to resell, resulting in unwarranted and uncontrolled pain.

I believe programs such as Meals on Wheels are a great example of how to prevent and monitor elder abuse. By providing meals, those volunteers are performing two very important services. First, they are providing a nutritious, affordable, healthy meal. Second, they are providing a human interface, a form of contact that may be the only interaction some elderly have all day.

On the other hand, simply ignoring the elderly or failing to provide those meals meets some definitions of elder abuse. Although not malicious, failure to provide programs such as Meals on Wheels is like turning a blind eye to those who need help the most, leaving them without nutrition and human contact.

Programs such as Legal Services for the Elderly Inc. can provide much needed aid to our elderly population. These free legal services are all encompassing regarding end-of-life decisions. Actively engaging elders in completing legal documents such as a will and power of attorney helps allow elders to live at ease. Ignoring these same vital issues only creates anxiety and stress at the end of their lives.

My grandparents are potentially prime candidates for elder abuse. My Nana in particular, who is elderly and disabled, has recently filed legal documents with her physician. Although she cannot afford an attorney, she has had guidance to establish a living will and medical power-of-attorney decisions. Had it not been for the free legal guidance, my grandmother would have none of those things finalized, leading to stress and ongoing questions.

She now prepares to move into elderly housing where she will benefit from new social connections and experiences and, hopefully, be playing plenty of cribbage. Because she is moving in with many people her age she is less likely to become a candidate for elder abuse. The constant interactions and social connections will decrease the potential for elder abuse.

My paternal grandparents elected to create a will with minimal legal guidance. None of my grandparents receive Meals on Wheels but they are all engaged socially and maintain interpersonal contact on their own.

I am relieved that my grandparents and parents have made end-of-life decisions that may alleviate stress and additional potential for elder abuse in the future. I intend to remain closely connected to my parents and grandparents while remaining vigilant about taking appropriate action on their behalf.

Perhaps through education more people in my generation could help decrease the occurrence of elder abuse.


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