Friday, August 21, 2009
A week ago I attended a two day seminar on elder abuse. It was a dry run for a program that will be given to law enforcement officers in Boulder County where I live. Much as domestic, child and sexual abuse remained hidden for many years, elder abuse is an epidemic that is now gaining more awareness. The difficult economic times also lead to an increase in elder abuse. Elder abuse takes many forms including physical, emotional/psychological, sexual, neglect and financial exploitation. This program trains law enforcement officers to focus on victim safety, avoid assumptions (e.g., someone with dementia might still be reporting real abuse), recognize abuser tactics and work collaboratively with other agencies. As I thought through what I learned in the program, it brought to mind how we deal with difficult situations. Basically, there are four options: 1. Change the situation, 2. Change your attitude, 3. Suffer, or 4. Get out. As these choices apply to a victim of elder abuse, changing the situation would include confronting the abuser and seeking outside assistance. Changing your attitude is a key point made by Victor Frankl in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” When he was in a Nazi concentration camp in World War II, Frankl concluded that the Nazis could control everything except his attitude. While this applied in his situation, I wouldn’t recommend an abuse victim changing his/her attitude to accept the situation. Much like the Stockdale Paradox as described by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great” when faced with a difficult situation as Admiral Jim Stockdale did as a prisoner in the Vietnam War, it’s necessary to do everything possible to overcome the adversity while still confronting the brutal facts of the current situation. In other words, you can’t be off in never-neverland pretending there is no problem and you can’t give up, but need to keep trying while being realistic about how bad things are. Alternative three is to suffer, which unfortunately is what most victims of elder abuse do. The fourth alternative is to get out. This can be by leaving and going somewhere safe to live. Again, many victims of elder abuse aren’t mobile enough to pursue this alternative. What often happens is that the victims suffer until they get out by dying. Identification of an abusive situation by police or other agencies can alternatively lead to a positive outcome where the situation is changed through the victim being put in a safe situation and the abuser being arrested.