You may recall that Mickey Rooney was one of the biggest, brightest young stars in Hollywood in the late 1930s and 1940s. He went on to have a very full, successful career as a character actor, and today, he's 90 years old. Yesterday, he put on what might have been one of the most important performances of his career -- he spoke in front of a Senate committee about being a victim of elder abuse.
According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, more than 14 percent of noninstitutionalized older adults experienced some form of elder abuse in 2009. The report cautions that number may be lower than the reality because many instances of elder abuse are underreported ... well, duh.
Even Rooney suffered silently for years. He came forward, but I'm sure there are many more victims of elder abuse who cannot. Rooney told the Senate yesterday:
I couldn't muster the courage, and you have to have courage to [say] 'I need help!' Even when I tried to speak up, I was told to 'Shut up! Be quiet! You don't know what you're talking about!'
Aside from being personally difficult to admit that you're being abused by family members, it seems to me that it can be technically difficult, as well. Rooney's a famous movie star who can get a spot in front of a Senate panel to tell his story! But who is the average senior going to speak up to when everyone in their world is blowing them off, thinking they're just crotchety and senile? That they really "don't know what they're talking about"?
It makes me so sad to think about one of my own grandmothers. She's been in assisted living homes for over 10 years, and I hear awful things all the time. I'm not saying she and the other seniors living in the homes are abused by the staff there necessarily ... But seeing them so alone, sitting in the middle of hallways in their wheelchairs, or in their rooms with the doors slightly ajar, something just tells me many of them are neglected in various ways, by their children and those who are hired to care for them. I would bet that way more than 14 percent of them are being abused financially, emotionally, physically, etc. by someone in their lives.
It's just sick how much it goes on, and Rooney is totally correct in saying that the government needs to step in. He implored the committee to stop the abuse NOW, to pass legislation and send it to be signed into law by the President. That way, "it's a crime and we will not allow it in the United States of America."
I see this as being the same thing as domestic abuse or child abuse. Seniors -- and anyone in their lives who wants to help them -- need to have an official way to report elder abuse. Thankfully, something like that might not be too far off.
CNN reported that after the hearing, committee Chairman Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin, introduced legislation that would create an Office of Elder Justice within the Department of Justice to help coordinate law enforcement response to elder abuse. Here's hoping it passes so that our seniors get the respect and resources they deserve.
Image via dbking/Flickr