Miss D has changed my life in so many ways. I remember volunteering for Free Arts NYC over ten years ago. I was creating art with at-risk children and thought I could make a difference in their lives, but a funny thing happens – they change your life. They give back much more to you. It’s a very satisfying experience. The same is true for Miss D. Not only does she give me truths to live by, she has opened up a calling for me to become an advocate for the elderly.
I have just completed a published graphic for the NYC Elder Abuse Center for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day recognized on June 15, 2014. With an idea of a butterfly isolated inside a jar, I found the perfect photo from Natalia Shaidenko. She so graciously donated her photo for the public awareness of elder abuse. The NYC Elder Abuse Center group embraced this visual with a powerful call to action message.
NYC Elder Abuse Center commemorates WEAAD
I was asked to say a few words today at Miss D’s secured location for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The theme was being a Good Neighbor.
My experience with elder abuse started out simply by noticing my longtime neighbor Miss D in neglect. My husband and I have helped other neighbors before, but this was different. My gut told me something was wrong. How could a mother and grandmother with family living in this city be neglected and all alone?
I wasn’t quite sure what to do and I certainly did not feel comfortable contacting her family after what I saw. I started off by calling our local council office and they helped me navigate a referral to Adult Protective Services. With the city services getting involved, it was discovered Miss D was about to be evicted by our landlord and her son had been financially exploiting her for some time.
With this news, I became quite protective of my neighbor. She was vulnerable with dementia – she couldn’t remember she was abused and she didn’t understand what was happening to her. Miss D needed an advocate through this process. I followed her this past year as she was safely relocated to her secured location, testified at her court hearing and patiently waited for the appointment of the guardian group for Miss D. Many good professional people fought for Miss D’s rights. I am so grateful to them and especially to the secured location staff for keeping Miss D safe and for taking such good care of her.
As neighbors – we may be first-responders to Elder Abuse. I often think about what would have happened if I had looked the other way. Miss D would be homeless on the street and she’d be alone. Now, Miss D may be returning to her apartment this summer with the home care services she needs.
I will continue to be an advocate for Miss D. Our relationship began as neighbors, turned into a friendship and now we are family. I will also continue to fight for the prevention of elder abuse.
I would love to tell you all where Miss D is located, but I have to keep this private for her own safety. The secured location where Miss D has been for nearly a year is the best model I’ve ever seen for the caring of our elderly whether they are abused or not. Fortunately, this model of nursing home and elder abuse shelter is now being replicated across the country.
I was honored to receive The Good Neighbor Award today!
Elder Abuse Awareness Animated Banner by Nancy Oatts Design © 2014
Under the Radar
This was the name of a study completed in 2011 by a team of research partners and many experts in New York State. They conducted telephone interviews of 4,000 people over the age of 60 and asked them if they had experienced elder abuse. The study revealed for every case that is self-reported, 25 go unreported. You can read the entire report here.
Imagine how many more victims of elder abuse there must be like Miss D, who have dementia, have no phone and couldn’t be considered for this random survey.
In the video below, Dr. Mark Lachs, Co-Chief of the Division of Geriatric Care at Weill Cornell Medical College calls elder abuse an epidemic, speaks about the study, the NYC Elder Abuse Center and the need for more medical students going into geriatric medicine.
Speaking at the White House was truly an honor. It’s been a lonely field for 20 or 25 years.
What others are reporting across the globe on elder abuse.
Will it take another 20 years?
Marie-Therese Connolly spoke before the Senate Special Committee on Aging at a hearing on Justice for All: Ending Elder Abuse, Neglect and Financial Exploitation on March 2, 2011, one year after the Elder Justice Act was passed into law. She spoke in direct terms of what is needed to move forward in preventing Elder Abuse. Below are a few excerpts from her testimony. You can read her entire testimony here.
Last year, prosecutors in Seattle charged Christopher Wise with the murder of his mother, Ruby. His crime? Letting her rot to death with eight huge pressure sores, several to the bone, while he played Internet poker and lived off her pension. His excuse? She didn’t want to go to a nursing home or a doctor; he was just respecting her wishes.
Ruby Wise was imprisoned in her bed by immobility, dementia, and isolation. She moaned and cried out for help continuously in the weeks before her death. Neighbors closed their windows and her son put in earplugs to muffle her cries. No one called Adult Protective Services or 911. It’s hard to believe the response would have been the same had the cries come from a child, a younger woman, or a dog.
We’ve spent countless billions to extend how long we live, but relatively little to assure dignity and well-being in the years we’ve gained. Like Chris Wise, we as a nation also have been wearing earplugs. It is time that we remove them.