In Climate of Elder Abuse, Adult Muslim Children Face Tough Decisions As Parents Age, Need Support
The seventh annual World Elder Abuse Awareness day was held on June 15, 2012, in an effort to encourage the nation to take a harder look at the treatment of the elderly. Though domestic abuse becomes more openly discussed, be it spousal or child abuse, there is arguably less scrutiny when it comes to the treatment of senior citizens by family members. As the prevalence of children caring for their elderly parents increases, discussion over the special needs of the elderly has too begun to enter the limelight.
Recent census data shows a 62 percent surge in elders living with children due to higher housing costs and the economy. Without proper training or experience in dealing with the elderly, many adults find caring for those that once cared for them a rewarding yet equally stressful and sometimes dangerous task.
“My life had changed...I began working at night and I was taking care of her during the day,” said Mustafa Alif, a Baltimore, Maryland area resident who has been caring for his 86 year old mother for the past 6 years. “Most men overlook their mother or wife or what have you, when they raise a child at home and how much time they have to take out for a child. I learned how time consuming it was to take care of a parent.”
Alif’s mother suffers from several conditions that confine her to one floor of the house, unable to safely move up or down stairs without assistance.
“All the time when I was growing up my mother was vibrant. In fact we used to race together, we used to run together,” said Alif. “For me it doesn’t really seem like it was that long. It’s hard when you see your parent in a situation where you’re helpless. This is the person who used to help you with all of your problems.”
Alif admitted that the stress sometimes gets to him and though he said he would never intentionally harm his mother, he knows that some people do harm the elderly.
“I wouldn’t hurt my mother but at the same time people do. Some people neglect them. Some people abuse them. The same thing that they do with children,” he said.
Because the elderly are often vulnerable, they face high risks of emotional, physical and even financial abuse. This abuse, though criminally equivalent to spousal or child abuse is often ignored as a private matter because the perpetrator is often a family member or a caregiver, according to the U.S. Administration on Aging.
Abuse of the elderly is a wide spectrum. While some may be denied basic needs, others may be emotionally neglected, forced to stay within the home without means of socialization or deliberately made to feel like a burden. In addition to any health concerns or physical harm these conditions often lead to depression and subsequently a lower quality of life.
In 2009, 11 percent of the elderly surveyed by the United States Department of Justice (USDJ), reported having experienced some form of abuse or mistreatment, including sexual abuse. This study did not include those living in long term care facilities or who had “severe cognitive incapacity.”
Over five percent said they had been financially exploited by a member of their family within one year and though nearly five percent also said they had been emotionally mistreated, only eight percent of those incidents were reported to authorities. The USDJ estimates that for every one case of elder abuse reported, five more are not.
Though some statistics are available, elder abuse is largely understudied and many states had no adult protective services until as recently as the mid 1980s. Various factors have been determined to increase the likelihood of elder abuse including low income, unemployment, poor health and low levels of social support.
When Alif asked his own children, now adults, who would be taking care of him when he might need it they would say they were unsure if they would be able to handle such a large responsibility.
“I didn’t know if I could do it either but i’m doing it,” said Alif.
To keep his mother’s emotional spirits up, Alif makes special accommodations when going on vacation to ensure that his mother is able to join comfortably and safely. When he feels that she is down, he finds the simple reminders work best.
“I try to make her laugh,” he said. “I make her think of some of the antics I did as a child.”
But it’s not all laughter. At times the situation can get stressful and tense.
There are times it gets a little edgy and I have to catch myself sometimes,” Alif said. “You have to ask Allah to bless you with sabr.”
Alif noted that sometimes it’s the small things that are the toughest to deal with; the forgetfulness and the need to repeat little things over and over again.
Though Alif has built his life around caring for his mother, he was not, and admittedly still, is not sure that his accommodations are the best option.
After she spent five weeks in a nursing home, Alif felt the accommodations weren’t comforting for her. The unfamiliar surroundings made it difficult for her, he said. A nursing home was a last resort, though he is not ignorant to the fact that her condition may eventually make it the only option.
“Am I doing what is good or am I doing more harm [by keeping her at home], said Alif. “I’m still weighing it in my mind.”
For now, Alif is committed to taking care of his mother in his home, for as long as he can.
“One of the things that Allah says to do is to take care of those who are helpless,” he said. “I’m trying to earn my way to Janaah. For some of us that might be our only way.”
Though still learning how to navigate the change from his childhood role of dependence on his mother, to his new role as caretaker in her time of complete dependence on him, Alif said all he knows for sure is that he never wants to live with regret, a lesson he learned as a child.
“My father worked for a funeral home when I was a child. I used to ride with him. Some of the things that people would say [was that] they had regrets [about loved ones they lost]. They wish they could have done this, they wish they could have done that. They wish they had said this they wish that they didn’t say that,” he said. “As long as I know I’ve done all that I can do, then so be it. That is the reward.”