Gareth Manning, Staff Reporter
Many of Jamaica's senior citizens have been reportedly abused, even while in the care of relatives. - File
THEY SHOULD be among the most respected in our society, but a high number of the nation's seniors - 65 years and over - are turning up at public hospitals with severe injuries inflicted by other people.
The assaults range from stab and gunshot wounds to rape. But blunt injuries, which are often caused from beating or hitting a person with a dull instrument, is the most frequent form of assault that causes seniors to seek emergency care in the island's accident and emergency (A&E) units.
Last year alone, a total of 441 seniors were forced to access A&Es after being beaten with blunt instruments. Another 195 sought care due to intentional lacerations, which are wounds caused by sharp instruments but are less severe than stabs. Seventy were shot, 53 stabbed and 23 sexually assaulted or raped.
Seniors who fall in the age cohort 60 and over stand at about 300,000.
Not much done to help
But, while data on reported cases exist, not much work has been done in analysing the reasons behind the injuries of the elderly.
"We don't have any clue who the perpetrators are. Somebody could have beaten up somebody, or they could have just been the victim, but we have no idea about that," acknowledges chairman of the Violence Prevention Alliance, Dr Elizabeth Ward. Ward, who is a former director of disease prevention and control in the Ministry of Health, was also integral in the development of the Jamaica Injury Surveillance System which is currently used to monitor and collate data on injuries coming through public hospitals.
What are the issues?
"While we are looking at the data and getting alarmed, what we need to be saying is: Where is the on going operational research to find out exactly what are the issues? Where are they located, and are there any key intervention areas where we can make a difference?" says Ward.
Paulette Burke, a coordinator at the Women's Outreach Centre in St Andrew, sees a number of these battered elders daily. In fact, she says of the little more than 80 registered as part of its senior citizens' club, about 30 per cent of them often show up with complaints and bruises.
From her experience, most abuses are meted out by relatives, often children of the elderly.
She relates some recent cases dealt with by the centre.
"There was this former teacher whose son told him that he can't stay in the house and the son thumped him in his jaw. And right now, as you look at it, you can see that something is wrong with it," she says. Burke discloses that the elderly man has tried to put his son out of the house before, but without success.
Rescued by neighbour
She tells another tale of a 78- year-old woman who had to be rescued by a neighbour from her abusive son in a nearby inner-city community.
On a visit to enquire about the woman's whereabouts, neighbours told her of a history of severe beatings.
"The lady is a very thin-bodied person and the neighbour told me that him beat her up. The neighbour had to intervene because the mother had messed up herself and the neighbour decided to clean her up," Burke tells The Sunday Gleaner.
She is convinced that many cases of elder abuse are underreported because most seniors have nowhere to go once they make a report.
"It's not like they are afraid to talk to you, but where are you going to put them when they talk," she says.
Burke is recommending that the State provide places of safety for neglected and abused senior citizens similar to those provided for children under the law.
"People are needed to do some house to house [monitoring]. So it's not only the children but also who need care and protection," she says.
Assault cases seen in public hospitals (65 years and over)
Male Female Stab wounds 40 13 Gunshot 60 10 Blunt injury 271 170 Sexual assault3 20 Intentional lacerations 167 28
Stab wounds 57 4 Gunshot 75 2 Blunt injury 270 179 Sexual assault1 17 Intentional lacerations 152 33
Stab wounds 61 12 Gunshot 91 9 Blunt injury 272 158 Sexual assualt 3 16 Intentional lacerations 138 34
Stab wounds 57 7 Gunshot 107 13 Blunt injury 298 145 Sexual assualt0 18 Intentional lacerations 149 46
Stab wounds 54 6 Gunshot 61 2 Blunt injury 295 183 Sexual assault 3 12 Intentional lacerations 176 44
Source: Ministry of Health Hospital Monthly Reporting Statistical Reporting System
Signs & suspicions
If you're concerned that a senior citizen is being abused, knowing the signs and symptoms of abuse can help you determine if a problem exists. These signs and symptoms may include:
Examples of questionable injuries include bruises, cuts, burn or rope marks and broken bones or sprains that cannot be explained. Other signs of potential problems include sudden changes in behaviour, comments about being battered, or the refusal of the caregiver to allow you to visit the older person alone.
Lack of physical care
Indications of substandard physical care include dehydration, malnourishment, weight loss and poor hygiene. Bed sores, soiled bedding, unmet medical needs and comments about being mistreated also may indicate a problem. Lack of physical care can happen to older adults living in their homes, as well as in institutional-care settings, such as nursing homes.
Changes in an older person's behaviour or emotional state may suggest a problem. Examples include agitation, withdrawal, fear or anxiety, apathy, or reports of being treated improperly.
Unaccounted-for financial changes
Financial problems may include missing money or valuables, unexplained financial transactions, unpaid bills despite available funds and sudden transfers of assets, as well as comments about being exploited. Another sign may be older adults who are controlling their finances but do not allow relatives to see their records.