Sad pathology of elder abuse

PHOTO: Sad pathology of elder abuse

SINGAPORE - Elder abuse perpetrated by adult children is not talked about openly because it is shaming and distressing.

More so than abused spouses, aged parents who have been subjected to physical and psychological mistreatment by grown sons (less, the research indicates, by daughters) for prolonged periods tend to blame themselves for their predicament.

They are resigned to their "fate", sure they had been remiss in the way they raised their children.

This is a conventional view associated with social workers and academic researchers, and there appears to be little distinction between Asian societies, where filial values are strong, and more permissive cultures, where the family unit is more diffuse.

The thinking needs to be reassessed with new data as economic privation and societal change have begun to alter the texture of societies, East and West.

Breaking the cycle of silent complicity, as it were, would acknowledge that a problem exists.

This is so even in Singapore, where family values are promoted assiduously. Care and emotional support for aged parents is thankfully the majority habit, but it cannot be assumed that this might not get weakened as social mores change and the millennial generation march to a different drummer.

The higher the ageing ratio in the demographic, the worse the social pathology of neglect, abuse and abandonment might get.

The issue needs an airing so that appropriate responses such as support services and even legislation can be tailored to mitigate the effects. There is already a law for parents to sue for maintenance.

For suffering parents to be taking out personal protection orders against their abusers would indicate they are at the end of their tether.

Some have been assaulted repeatedly by sons who demanded money to feed gambling and drug habits.

Those who lived with married children might have endured mental cruelty. By the time the doddering aged are diddled out of their flats and have been forced out as destitutes, as has happened, it would be too late. Intervention should come well before then.

Victims should be encouraged to seek help. Often, the neighbourhood grassroots network is all they know of as state agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) appear remote.

There is an impressive body of research on elder violence and mental cruelty conducted by academics, protective services and family-centred organisations like the Tsao Foundation. Studying the triggers for abusive behaviour and stoic acceptance by victims frequently has brought the same conclusions. It is more useful to strengthen the network of NGOs and voluntary support services for victims to get relief before the point of relational no return is reached.

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