By Bard Linderman
Far off the main highway of public awareness is an obscure backwater known as "elder abuse." Far too little is understood about the abhorrent crimes that fall in this category, and this is society's shame.
Elder abuse refers to injury, exploitation or other forms of victimization older adults suffer at the hands of those on whom they depend for protection or long-term care. Some advocates for the elderly believe that somewhere between 1 million and 2 million incidents happen every year.
"Elder abuse is a lot more common and a lot worse than most people realize," said Cindy Ash, a veteran police detective in suburban Atlanta. She tells reporters that elder abuse awareness today is where domestic abuse awareness was 15 or more years ago.
Why isn't elder abuse reported to the police, and why don't we hear more about it in the news? Consider this all too typical case:
Joe Marion and his wife, Auta, raised two strong sons in tiny Knox City, Texas, some 50 miles north of Abilene. Here in this close-knit community of fewer than 5,000, Joe owned gas stations and carried on the religious devotion of his father, a minister.
"Daddy attended the Foursquare Church every time someone opened the doors," remembered Joe's son Roland. "He lead the song service many, many years, and for over 20 years he was Sunday school superintendent."
Life was good back then, but it turned rotten after Joe was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Soon thereafter, both Roland's and brother Bobby Joe Marion's wives were diagnosed with different cancers. Surgeries were in order.
As many families do, the Marions had pledged to care for the Alzheimer's patient, vowing never to call upon a nursing home. But when Joe Marion started wandering, they clearly had no choice. Roland and his mother reluctantly placed Joe in a local home. Auta later transferred him to a second Texas institution, a nursing center.
That move seemed to make sense, because Auta Marion had family near there - two sisters, one brother - and her late grandmother had lived out her life in this home, being a resident nine years. Auta told friends, "These nurses are older and more mature."
On Aug. 18, Auta followed her routine. She visited her husband, hectored the aides to take better care of the hapless patient, and then stole away for a quick luncheon with a sister. At 2 p.m., she returned to find four aides grouped over Joe Marion, attending to cuts in his head and alongside his right eye. He also had multiple bruises on his right arm and wrist.
Some seven weeks later, the Marion family is still at a loss to explain what befell the demented, and defenseless, patriarch. The nursing home is stone-walling, saying only that it's not culpable. For the moment, it's a he-said, she-said case. Texas state authorities investigated and contend that charges of abuse remain unsubstantiated. A second investigation remains incomplete and open-ended.
The Knox City Marions might have settled for a genuine apology, backed by a promise from nursing aides never again to mishandle 75-year-old Joe Marion. They didn't get that, and they're righteously disappointed. So, they've done the following:
- They took digital pictures of Joe's wounds. He required five stitches alongside the right eye.
- They posted the incriminating photos on a Web site for all to see. Take a look at gosuperman.50megs.com/joemarion.html.
- They are offering a reward of $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the abusive caregiver.