Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Protecting Our Senior Citizens

“Too many of the elderly do not have the family or the communal attachments necessary to feel valued; too many are widowed or otherwise alone; too many live in surroundings where they are essentially without the companionship necessary to stimulate a mind in danger of deteriorating” – Sherwin B. Nuland
It is a topic we rarely speak about in this ‘conservative’ society. The Jamaican society for the most part still has not accepted the practice of placing the elderly in homes or infirmaries. There is a tendency and much support to care for the elderly and infirmed within the confines of the home. There is still much inclination, associated especially in some circles, to look down on those families who place their elderly members in old age homes. Notwithstanding this, one of the more common types of nursing home abuse is sexual abuse. Disturbingly, elderly nursing home residents make easy targets for sexual predators due to the fact that they are often weak and defenseless. Sexual abuse is any form of non-consensual contact, including unwanted or inappropriate touching, rape, sodomy, sexual coercion, and sexual harassment.    
Sexual abuse of elderly in nursing homes can occur in numerous circumstances. This type of abuse can come from a staff employee, another resident, a stranger or even a family member.   
Sexual abuse of a nursing home resident by a staff employee often occurs due to the failure of the nursing home to conduct background checks on the employee. The truth is many of these jobs are low skilled, long hours and no certification posts.  The lack of mandatory formal training to care for the elderly is a cause for concern and must be addressed with a sense of urgency to safeguard against the potential for abuse among this vulnerable sub-group of the population. Many nursing home residents require assistance in bathing, getting dress and going to the bathroom, this in and of itself creates opportunity for persons who are inclined to sexually abuse these residents. Many nursing homes tend to cater to both males and females. In circumstances where this co-ed exists it is very likely that the normal male and female relationship will develop, unfortunately this situation can set the stage for the abuse of one resident by another. Our elderly population placed in nursing homes requires supervision and should be encouraged to report cases of sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse by a stranger oftentimes occurs because nursing homes tend to be understaffed and lack adequately supervision. This may give rise to strangers having access to the said premises and to residents of such facilities. When an individual is placed in a nursing home the spouse of that person may miss the intimacy of the relationship both shared, however, in instances where the resident’s mental or physical condition disallow consensual sexual relations between husband and wife, the sexual act may reach to the realm of sexual abuse. Data from 2011 census indicates that Jamaica’s population is ageing with some 305,000 at the age of 60 years and older. Additionally, the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) stated that the fastest growing cohort of the population was the 65 years and older age group. Interestingly, the life expectancy rate of women exceeds that of men; as a result women are at a higher risk of sexual abuse since they live longer. There are some common signs we can look for which may indicate that your loved one is being abused in a nursing home.  For example, unexplained difficulty with walking or sitting, unexplained sexually transmitted disease of genital infection, the presence of sperm in the vagina or anus and or the presence of  fear, stress anxiety when a particular staff member approaches to give assistance with bathing, dressing or toileting. Sadly, in many societies senior citizens are often treated like second class. There needs to be partnership between the State and owners of private nursing homes to develop best practices regarding the training, operation and working conditions of employees. Senior citizens must be productively engaged regardless of their social status in the society. The time has come for the society to come to grips regarding the negative cultural attitudes surrounding the value or lack thereof we place on our senior citizens in order to have a more inclusive society in which everyone is valued.  Given advances in technology and medicine we too will likely live to that age where we will require care and assistance. We need to demand that our senior citizens are well taken care of whether in or out of nursing homes.  As a society we need to get more involved in the proper care and protection of our elderly.  The society needs to work towards a zero tolerance approach regarding the sexual abuse of our senior citizens.
In the words of Isaiah 46:4  Even to your old age and grey hairs, I am he; I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
waykam@yahoo.com
@WayneCamo