They are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Every day there's a new story about an elderly person being raped, abused, robbed, or attacked.
There are no safe spaces for the elderly, who often face abuse from loved ones as well.
It is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, where the struggles of senior citizens are brought into the limelight. But even this doesn't get much traction and the elderly continue to suffer from isolation and sometimes even hunger, especially those who need help with daily things like bathing, eating, and medication.
Founder of Wretched Woman’s Diary, Sindiswa Mabindisa is a witness of injustice against the elderly and wants to provide a safe space for them.
“The elderly are not getting the love and help they need, even in the homes they live in. The are treated so badly by their own families,” she tells Drum.
She is used to arriving at a home and seeing family members close themselves in the next room or leave when she is about to give a granny a bath. They often don't assist or take any interest.
The 29-year-old mother of one is a community caregiver based in Tembisa, Phomolong. She wakes up everyday to take care of the elderly.
“I don’t know where this love comes from, but it fulfils me and I would not have it any other way,” she says.
Sindiswa doesn't receive any kind of funding to do the work she is passionate about but whatever she has, she shares with the elderly.
“It breaks my heart that I don’t have a shelter to look after all of them on my own. That is my wish,” she says.
More resources are needed at every level, as elder abuse affects the health and human rights of millions of older people around the world, says social worker and member of the South African Association of Social Workers in Private Practice, Hylton Marks.
Conscious abuse, in his experience, is often that of financial exploitation. For example, substance dependent family members may use an older person’s grant to feed their addiction. Alcohol abuse in families right across the social spectrum also frequently leads to abuse of the elderly. This can be through neglect, physical, emotional or verbal abuse.
In some communities, dementia is equated with witchcraft and older people can be vilified and even physically abused.
Unconscious abuse, on the other hand, could take the form of family members with mental illness lacking insight into the effects of their behaviour on an older person. Sometimes families are also unsure about what resources are available or are reluctant to ask for assistance in managing a difficult situation with an older person.
During these times, the elderly are often subjected to abuse through neglect, Hylton says.
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Sindiswa says she witnesses gross injustices towards the elderly every day.
“There are those who are sexually abused by family members. Some of them, their social grant money is taken by their children, grandchildren or relatives and it is not used to take care of them,” she says.
The biggest struggle for many grannies in her community are adult diapers, which they never have or run out very quickly.
“I know one granny who is given food in the morning and at night only because they tell her that she is going to soil herself too much if she eats in the day.
“Sometimes I find grannies whose diapers are not changed while there are people in the house. They let her sit with the diapers for hours.
“When I arrive, I wash them and make sure they don’t smell and they are clean. When I don’t have diapers, I used cloth napkins,” Sindiswa says.
Her passion for this work knows no bounds. She is not getting paid for this, it's simply a need to see the elderly live a dignified life.
If needs be, she carries the elderly on her back when they have to go to the clinic too.
“I have even washed a granny’s corpse at the mortuary because family members would not do it,” she tells us.
The non-availability of state subsidised and affordable accommodation is a serious problem for older people.
“This issue appears to be getting no attention or funding from the government," Hylton says.
”Norms in societies worldwide have also changed, with younger people generally appearing to be less tolerant or mindful of older generations. Social ills have also taken their toll on societies all over the world. However, many young people do still respect and feel a familial bond to their grandparents.”
Grandparents are essential, he says.
“Working parents often rely on their parents to assist with caring for children. Healthy interaction between children and grandparents provides the younger generation with positive role models and educates them in cultural norms and identity.
"In healthy families, children learn both social and life skills from grandparents as well as their own parents. For children who have lost one or both parents, or who have been affected by an acrimonious divorce, the stability and nurture that grandparents can provide is critical.”
Outreach and education programmes regarding care of the elderly are desperately needed in communities, Hylton says.
The reality is, there aren’t many like Sindiswa whose hearts are into caregiving without expecting anything in return.
“I love it and would not have it any other way. It makes me feel so fulfilled knowing I've helped someone every day,” she says.