By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
“Gerald, 73, had a stroke, which left him unable to care for himself. His son offered to help, and Gerald moved in with him and his family. But, Gerald’s son and daughter-in-law worked all day and were busy with their kids in the evenings. Gerald hated being a burden on them and tried to take care of himself. One day, Gerald’s friend Carmen came to visit. She was surprised to see food stains on his clothes and sores on his heels. His room smelled like urine, too. Gerald seemed depressed and withdrawn-not at all like the jolly, witty friend she had known for years. Carmen worried that Gerald’s family was neglecting him.” -National Institute on Aging
Getting old “ain’t” for sissies. As I draw closer to the “official” designation (only three years to go), I find myself thinking more and more about the good and bad of being on elder. Part of the bad is that I am beginning to see and feel the signs of becoming “elderly”. Body parts don’t work as good as in my younger days. I have a lot less hair and what remains is turning gray. It takes longer to recover from injury and illness. Friends and family are dying off. I am beginning to understand why our elders value companionship and fellowship over material goods.
My memory is starting to show signs of all those lost brain cells over the years; some lost as a part of the Creator’s plan for the body, other brain cells died an untimely death due to the sowing of wild oats in my youth. It is a blessing, in a way, to lose the recall of traumatic events in life. It is not so scary to occasionally lose your glasses when they are sitting on your forehead or your keys when they are in your pocket. But, it is a little ominous that those little inconveniences could be a foreshadowing of the fear and uncertainty of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
I have always been proud of our treatment of the more mature members of our Tribe. Elder care is a primary concern of our government and our community. As a whole, we cherish our elders. From senior citizen checks to a proposed plan to pay for all elder’s electric bills, we honor our elders by providing for them monetarily. Elders of the Tribe are respected, and their wisdom is noted in every public forum. We make special efforts to ensure the care and comfort of our senior citizens. Certainly, our provisions for the aging exceed those of the state and federal governments.
Even with our focus and concern as a community for our elders, there are still those who are neglected and abused. The abuse comes in many forms; physical abuse from hitting, pushing, or slapping; emotional abuse from hurtful words said, yelling, threatening or simply ignoring an elder; neglect when not providing for the needs an elder; abandoning or leaving elders alone without making arrangements for their care; and sexual abuse by forcing seniors to watch or be a part of sexual acts (National Institute on Aging). Add to that list the fact that elders are frequently abused by family or friends stealing or soliciting money from them to satisfy some addiction and a health care system that is not secure enough to prevent senior citizens from being overcharged, double-billed, or being the victim of blatant, fraudulent Medicaid, Medicare or insurance claims.
We are a strong, proud people. Being an elder in this Tribe is a place of honor and deserving of respect. Our elders have a proud ancestry and are accustomed to being independent. They are used to giving, but are not so used to receiving. As we get older, we have to lean on others for what we used to be able to do on our own. For a proud, independent person, the process of aging can be demoralizing and depressing. When someone abuses them, they are less likely to tell anyone and more likely to become silent and deal with the abuse internally.
It is up to caregivers, family and friends to be diligent in securing our elders and making sure that they are being given the respect and care they deserve. Abuse can happen anywhere, including in the elder’s own home, at a family member’s home, or in a nursing home. Abuse may even be in the form of a well-meaning family member who overestimates their time and commitment to the care of their senior. It may be as extreme and blatant as a paid caregiver who takes out their frustrations with their own lives by physically attacking seniors. In all cases, it is up to all of us to watch for warning signs and report those to someone who can address them. It is up to us to take action on behalf of the precious gift of our elders. If we stand by and do nothing, we are accomplices to the abuse.
There are thousands of family members and caregivers who give heart, body and soul to the care of our elders. They sacrifice time, materials and finances to ensure the care of our senior population. These selfless givers are to be commended and praised. You and I should aspire to be like them by watching out for our elders and ensuring that those who would hurt those in our aging population are reported and removed from any opportunity to hurt them further.
After all, if the Creator is willing, you will someday be an elder too.