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  • Writer's pictureGCI Auckland

Are you closing your eyes to elder abuse?

Social and cultural conditions have changed remarkably since early Christian times. Christians in the early church acted as a social community, caring for aging parents, and for widows and those without means of support. External social agencies were not set up by governments or charities to shift the burden elsewhere. There were no retirement communities and hospitals for the aged. It was expected that parents would be cared for by their children, yet even the Jewish community sometimes made excuses for not providing for the elderly.

Matthew 15: 4-6 (The Message)

But Jesus put it right back on them. “Why do you use your rules to play fast and loose with God’s commands? God clearly says, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel around that by saying, ‘Whoever wants to, can say to father and mother, What I owed to you I’ve given to God.’ That can hardly be called respecting a parent. You cancel God’s command by your rules.

The United Nations tells us now that the global population of people aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 542 million in 1995 to about 1.2 billion in 2025. Around 4 to 6% of elderly people worldwide have experienced some form of maltreatment at home. Abuse towards aging people is expected to rise as many countries have aging populations.

Fewer young people will be willing, or even able, to care for older family members in their own homes. And those that are able to be cared for at home, are likely to be subject to the growing tensions caused by overcrowding, lack of money, work schedules and the stress of managing families. Sometimes these relatives will be subject to unintended neglect, and sometimes, quite appalling, mistreatment.

The independence of the older person living on their own is being eroded, as they become isolated in their communities, targeted by scams, and lack support to live in a way that respects their rights and dignity. Many times the solution is seen as segregating the elderly into communities to provide specialist care, social interaction and access to other support.

But whether in their own homes, living with family, or in retirement homes, older persons are often vulnerable and face unique difficulties and challenges.

We hear and see some horrific tales in the news - retirement staff locking up patients to avoid care and make life easier for staff, caregivers defrauding their charges of life savings, family members failing to give the necessities of life and allowing wounds to fester to the point of death. Believe it or not, this is happening in New Zealand as much as in the rest of the world.

In New Zealand, Age Concern receive 8 referrals of elder abuse every working day. Research in New Zealand also indicates that 75% of this abuse is by family members. The problem is universal, not restricted to a particular race, religion, gender, or income group, and something we should all be aware of. Elder abuse isn't just in the horrifying stories in the news and courtrooms, but often in our own homes and communities, overlooked and ignored.

‘‘Manipulating, isolating, insulting, neglecting, intimidating… What’s truly frightening is turning our backs on this issue and pretending it doesn’t exist,” said Bill Haugland, a retired journalist from Canada.

What is Elder Abuse?

It’s actions which harm and distress older people.

It’s lack of care, or neglect, by people close to an older person.

It’s not just physical violence or using force like pushing, slapping -

■ It’s using older people’s money without consent

■ It’s controlling who they see, who they talk to, where they go

■ It’s taking decisions out of their hands

■ It’s treating them like children

■ It’s name calling and put downs

■ It’s keeping them at home, denying them the care they need

■ It’s locking them in their room so they don’t wander

(from Family and Community Services - Ministry of Social Development)

These are not actions that Jesus would endorse. We are told in in 1 Timothy 5, verse 1-8 (The Message)

"Don’t be harsh or impatient with an older man. Talk to him as you would your own father, and to the younger men as your brothers. Reverently honour an older woman as you would your mother, and the younger women as sisters.Take care of widows who are destitute. If a widow has family members to take care of her, let them learn that religion begins at their own doorstep and that they should pay back with gratitude some of what they have received. This pleases God immensely....Tell these things to the people so that they will do the right thing in their extended family. Anyone who neglects to care for family members in need repudiates the faith. That’s worse than refusing to believe in the first place."

Exodus 20:12 says “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you." (NIV) Sadly, our seniors frequently are not honoured, but are treated as annoyances.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: - "We owe it to older persons and societies at large to fight ageism in all its forms and enhance the dignity and human rights of older persons everywhere."

We owe it to ourselves, our parents and our communities, to make sure we are not turning a blind eye to mistreatment of our elderly.

Let's respect older people and promote their wellbeing.

Let's appreciate their contribution, their wisdom and history.

Let's show the love of God.

For specialist information and support visit: or visit

For more information on preventing neglect and caring for elderly, download the pdf "Take the Time, Value Older People"

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