World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD)

JUNE 15: A day for the Purple Ribbons

Mrs. Nukshijungla Ao

Proverbs 16:31 - Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.

How old is old? The concept of ‘being old’ has changed drastically over the years due to the advancement of medical sciences, which has contributed hugely towards extending a person’s life span. Many churches in Nagaland observe ‘Senior Citizens’ Sunday’ for those who have attained 60 years of age and above. This is an effort to honor and respect the legacy, our elders have laid down for us. As a child, I grew up on the village hills of Nagaland with my grandparents and I yearn for those gaiety days spent in surreal joy. I would listen to the folk tales of our Naga culture, narrated by my grandparents. Growing up with grandparents has embedded great values in me which shall continue to guide my life holistically. Those are treasures worth more than gold and it is the legacy which money can never be traded. The inheritance of our Naga culture, our heritage, and our traditions are all preserved in them which can only be handed down to us only when we give efforts to connect ourselves with them.

Now the concern is, do we continue to value their presence every day or is it only on that particular Sunday that we compensate our responsibilities towards them with a gift? I am never against this effort but are we really paying attention to their needs? This reminds me of a heart touching tale where a very old man took his mobile phone to a repair shop, and requested for repair but the technician replies that nothing is wrong with his phone, which made the old man reply in tears, why his children never cared to call him. It is possibly that the old man was suffering neglect and thereby emotional abuse.

WEAAD is observed each year, globally, on June 15th, providing an opportunity for communities to stand together against abuse towards the elderly population with a purple ribbon symbol. People all over the world, decorates their own town or workplaces with purple ribbons, wears purple colored shirts or ribbons, to show support towards this approach.

Elder abuse can come in many forms. It can be financial, emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, or social. Elder abuse can occur once, or many times and can vary in severity from subtle through to extreme measures. It can include one or a combination of the different types of abuses. Most often, elder abuse is carried out by someone known to the older person, with two thirds of abusers being an adult child. Abusers can also be other family members, relatives, or even their friends. Abuses in particular such as, psychological abuse includes yelling, insulting, harsh commands, threats, silence, and social isolation. Physical abuse includes striking, shoving, beating, or restraint and last but not the least is financial that is described as misuse of the elderly income, theft of property, or material possessions. Neglect implies failure to fulfill the physical needs of the individual who cannot do so independently. Some of the neglect experienced by the elderly individuals is withholding food and water, providing unclean clothes and bedding, lack of needed medications, lack of eye glasses, hearing aids, and false teeth.

Ageing individuals experience many losses, potentially leading to bereavement overload. They are vulnerable to depression and to feelings of low self-worth. Much age related ailments are being experienced at this stage, as part of the ageing process, such as Osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, weak immune system, and so on. Some people term this stage as ‘Second Childhood’ where they fuss about little things; and this is the time that they need our support, the most.

Many practices from the west are adopted at a rapid pace and one among them is establishing of old age homes in our places too. I have witnessed and heard of people who care for their aged parents in old age homes, just because their parents were very forgetful or become aggressive. Well, we may have multiple reasons for the measures taken, but can we just show some love and consider, were they not the ones who bore and reared us up? Have I or we not honored our parents on Mothers’ and Fathers’ day just few years back, when they were healthy or when in fact helping us out”? And when they need our attention the most, why can we just show some kindness and compassion?

The concept of ‘old age home’ may be fitting in the west but I personally feel that keeping our elders at old age home, waiting for their death, along with ailments may be just too harsh on them. If our parents can help us take our first baby step, why can’t we help them take their last step with care and compassion? I see no honor in advocating keeping our parents at old age homes. 

Abuse of elderly individuals is a serious form of family violence. Studies indicate that individuals older than age 65 are the victims of abuse or neglect. Many suicides among the elderly are thus being reported due to abuse and neglect. Some of the reasons why the elderly choose to end their life can be due to their longer life and/or dependency on relatives which is considered as a burden to their caregivers.

The reason of why I am addressing this is because we are here today enjoying the fruits of our elders and we ought not to neglect them. Caring for elderly requires a special kind of inner strength and compassion. Caregivers, if feel burdened to take care of the aged, can resort to seek counsel. The willingness to love and to add a little deed of kindness everyday such as making a phone call or preparing their favorite dish or any little thing that can make them feel good, is all that matters to them, for their short stay here on Earth.

The writer is an Associate Professor, College of Nursing, CIHS,R Chumoukedima