Taking the time to take care our elderly

Published 4:05 pm Monday, December 11, 2017

States, like people, may be judged by how they treat the most vulnerable among us.

Texas presents a good but not consistently great picture of how it treats the elderly and protects them from abuse, according to a recent study by WalletHub.com, a national consumer website.

The study reveals our state rates near the bottom among the 50 in the number of eldercare organizations and services and expenditures on elder abuse prevention, atop the pack in financial elderly abuse laws, presence of elder abuse forensic centers and frequency of living facility inspections. A mixed bag, that.

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Texas ranks 15th for elder abuse, gross neglect and exploitation complaints; 21st for certified volunteer ombudsmen. In all: No. 14.

All of that matters a lot, not for mere numbers but for the human impact those numbers suggest. WalletHub says the percentage of those 65 and older will only increase in the U.S., and almost double in 2060. Baby Boomers are living longer.

While we might take solace in having fewer abuse cases, at least when compared to other states, every case of abuse is painful. This statistic is lamentable: WalletHub says abuse of the elderly affects 5 million people every year. Here’s another: 96 percent of abuse cases go unreported.

Angela Goins, who lectures on social work at the University of Houston-Downtown, said elder abuse might be physical, psychological or verbal. Sometimes it involves caregivers not providing medical attention or other needed resources; sometimes it involves financial exploitation.

Sometimes, the elderly suffer because they cannot speak for themselves and there is no one there to speak for them. That causes them to neglect themselves by not eating or seeking medical attention.

Policymakers – including elected and appointed state officials – can help, Goins says. The best, first steps are to recognize the issue’s importance and to seek more information. Advocate for funds for elder abuse prevention.

Families, too – no, families first – should talk with parents and family members to chart the right course for making sure their elders are on the right course to take care of themselves and that younger, trusted family members can seek power of attorney to help their elders navigate their last years safely and happily.

Visit your elderly family members, Goins said, not only to check on their safety but to help them stave off loneliness. Isolation of the elderly opens them to abuse.

Texas’ low rankings on elder care expenditures? That’s on all of us. Taking up the cause for more, effective state and community programs will follow cogent, consistent advocacy by the public. If it’s important to voters, it will become important to public leaders.

But first, we’ve got to make it important to us.