“This week, we are charting a path we have never been on BUT it is extremely important and guess who delivered this apt, informative and thought-provoking piece? The one and only Dr. Yaw Berko aka Yaw B who is my akonta, friend and colleague. Don’t just enjoy the read but also let us all take the necessary steps to protect our priceless men and women in their golden years.”
As a child, I used to live in a compound house at Adabraka. My understanding at the time was that the complex was built by an old lady who had turned over the management of the buildings to her son who collected rent! Looking back, I believe the old lady had dementia and sometimes soiled herself! This action was met with emotional and physical abuse at the hands of the son! I feel so bad I could not do anything about it but I was a child at that time.
With the advent of this unfortunate pandemic and it’s resultant shutdown of the economy and social distancing, depression and other psychiatric illnesses have increased in incidence! In fact, emotional and physical abuses have been rampant in this pandemic! I can imagine that our elders are not exempt from abuse in this perilous time!
June 15, declared as “World Elder Abuse Day”, I would like to bring to the fore what elder abuse is and how to prevent or report it when you witness one.
To grasp how elders can easily be abused, it is imperative to consider some of the physiological changes that occur as we all age. Our skin loses thickness and elasticity which makes it more prone to bruising! The elderly lose muscle mass and have generalised reduction in hormone production and activity. This results in easy bruising, poor bone formation, and increased risk for falls leading to trauma and fractures! The loss of neurons and brain mass causes dementia. Urinary and fecal incontinence can lead to offensive smell and pressure ulcers.
What exactly is elder abuse? Uptodate defines it as any action taken by a person who has an ongoing relationship with an older person that harms the older person and is done with the intent to harm. Abuse could be physical, emotional, financial, and even sexual abuse.
Physical abuse causes physical pain or injury to the older adult. Emotional abuse entails verbal assaults, threats of abuse, harassment, and intimidation. Financial abuse leads to misuse or withholding of an older adult’s resources by another. Sexual abuse involves forcing the older person to remove clothing, or do any sex act or downright rape!
Statistics are hard to come by in Ghana but in America, it is believed that approximately 1 in 10 elders experience some form of abuse! I suspect the incidence in Ghana is about the same or higher but will not be known because it is a taboo to talk about such.
Elders at risk of the various forms of abuse are women, elders older than 80 years, elders with dementia, and those with less social connections and have trouble paying bills!
Unfortunately, abusers are both women and men and in most cases are family members! Two-thirds of perpetrators are adult children (as I witnessed as a child) or even spouses! In some cases the abuser may be someone who cares for older people, maybe a house help hired by family members to take care of their loved ones.
It is very easy to suspect abuse in the elderly. Things to look for are cuts and bruises. Pain, soreness and bleeding in the anal or genital area are some indicators. Pressure ulcer on the buttocks that develop when a person sits in one position for too long must arouse your antennae for elder abuse! Elders with a strong smell of urine or faeces suggest poor hygiene and lack of proper care. Emotional abuse sometimes leads to withdrawal from normal activities, unusual depression, and frequent arguments between the caregiver and the older adult.
The effects of elder abuse are daunting. Abuse in the elderly population causes a 300% higher risk of death as compared to those who have not been mistreated.
So how does one prevent elder abuse? The most important thing to do is to keep in touch with him or her. You can also ask the elder direct questions if you suspect abuse or neglect! I always suggest paying unexpected visits to their homes if they are under the supervision of a caregiver!
Some countries have adult protective services that seek the interest of the elderly population! If none of that exists in Ghana, I strongly urge the Social Welfare Department to set up one and educate the general population about the existence of elder abuse and how it can be reported.
So just as the Bible says in Exodus 20:12, “honour your father and mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” This is the time to take care of our elders who nourished us from the womb to who we are today.
Dr. Yaw Berko
? Ref National Council on Aging NCOA
? National institute on aging
AS ALWAYS LAUGH OFTEN, ENSURE HYGIENE, WALK AND PRAY EVERYDAY AND REMEMBER IT’S A PRICELESS GIFT TO KNOW YOUR NUMBERS (blood sugar, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, BMI)
Thought for the week – “Loss of sense of smell and/or taste may be a symptom of COVID 19 but other conditions may also present in the same way. Get professional help.”