UP to the time of writing, the country had recorded 32 homicides among senior citizens thus far this year. There were 20 such deaths last year. The manner of the killings in many cases was as horrendous as the decisions to commit them in the first place. Curiously also, while the figures jump at the reader, even as a fraction of the 408 murders recorded as of yesterday, police say the slaughter of the aged and the aging does not now represent any significant increase when compared with similar statistics as compiled over the last five years.
Raising an alarm on its own, the International Women’s Resource Network issued a denunciation of what has become a trend, describing it as shocking. The association’s president, Sandrine Isaac-Rattan, issued a “plea” to relatives, friends, associates and well-wishers to “urgently revisit their living conditions, so as to ensure that they are provided with added protection, even if this change requires relocating them to a space in the presence of at least one trusted caregiver.”
One of the country’s leading psychologists, Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor, asked to help provide some kind of understanding behind these developments, went first for the phenomenon of “compassionate senicide.” This has to do with the conscious decision of others, to take the life of someone in their senior years. She says this has presumably serious consequences for the society as we move forward. The percentage of persons living past 65 is increasing. From the national census in 2011, there were 109,028 persons over 65. This represented 8.96 per cent of the population.
Dr Nakhid-Chatoor asks us to place these developments “in the context of the family, and the secularisation of households.” She says in most cases, killers possess what is called “Anti-Social Personality Disorder,” and historically may have themselves come from dysfunctional homes and physically or sexually abusive childhoods. Among the prevailing modalities for their actions, they may choose the victims at random, or identify a potential victim, study their habits and choose a time when the victim is alone. She believes that in our context this is the prevalent pathway to their actions.
But beneath the story of the killings there is also emerging an accompanying narrative of abuse of elderly persons, and the slow death which is set in train by others who prey on their failing health. In an increasing number of cases, stories are emerging of how senior citizens are being cajoled, or in many instances, forced into homes for the aged by others who then manipulate the arrangements by which they gain access to their properties and bank accounts. Some of these incidents are said to involve complicity by doctors who acquiesce in prescribing medication that is designed to create or worsen physical conditions, or attorneys who refuse to nullify “power of attorney” orders issued to persons accused of manipulating those in their care, with the objective of gaining for themselves the resources at their disposal.
In one case, related more than a year ago, an elderly woman was committed to a home which was located on the northern outskirts of San Fernando. The managers of that home were ordered not to allow visits by anyone, except with the authorisation of the man who took her there. Family members and friends, concerned for the welfare of this lady, were reporting little to no success in trying to point out that the person ostensibly taking care of this lady did not genuinely have her best interest at heart.
Distressed relatives are now seeking to bring to light another case in which a brother and a sister said to be well off are being taken advantage of by those in their care. Both siblings have been placed in separate homes for the aged, unbeknownst to other close relatives. Because of the established protocols at such facilities, only those signing for the admission can request release of such institutionalised elders. There are concerns in this family that in the case of both brother and sister, their financial assets are being raided by those who have been given access to them.
Feeling locked out and helpless in the face of what they see as the naked exploitation of their older siblings, these younger family members are seeking ways by which to shine a light into this widening corner of the abuse of the elderly among us.
“Unfortunately,” Sandrine Isaac-Rattan has lamented, “trust no longer resides in the hearts of many and for that, the most vulnerable in our society become the easiest target.”
Dr Nakhid-Chatoor askes a broader, more unsettling question. “Why are the poor, the vulnerable, the very young and the old, seen as ‘expendables’ in our society?”