Topics on Aging

By Juan Gallo

Who Should be Protecting Seniors from Abuse?

February 8, 2023

Who Should be Protecting Seniors from Abuse?

An ugly confrontation at my local pharmacy a few days ago got me thinking about elderly abuse

Specifically: Whose role is it to prevent the mistreatment of older members of our community?

I walked into my pharmacy after work recently and saw an older man hunched over the self-service kiosk. His cane was hung off to the side, and he held on to shelving to keep himself up. 

The man had already paid, but he was staring at the machine and saying, “It just doesn’t make any sense.” 

A young manager at the register looked a little frustrated as the older man complained about an odd charge in his transaction. 

A lady, upset by the wait, told the older man to shut up. 

“I see that you have a cane,” she yelled. “If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about a coupon. I’d be more worried about what I can do to you!”

She started cursing at him. 

Now, I wasn’t in a role of authority. I was just a shopper. I didn’t feel comfortable confronting the woman. She had gotten so loud that she didn’t really hear me. 

I just knew there was no need to talk to anyone like that. I stood in front of the elderly man and asked, “Sir, how can I help you?”

He looked right at the Heart2Heart logo on my shirt. I’m not sure if he was familiar with our nonprofit, but the heart was enough. He visibly relaxed and began to explain his dilemma. 

In the confrontation, it might have sounded like he was an annoying or irate customer. But really, he was just a man, who was tired from walking and frustrated. The coupon for the expensive product he needed to keep himself healthy hadn’t worked, and the machine had taken it. 

I stayed there until the manager took care of the problem. I kept my attention focused on the older man. 

I ignored the woman, who loudly told the manager, “I hope this goes away soon!” before calling the older man a nasty word.

When is it elder abuse?

To me, the verbal assaults by the shopper felt like elder abuse. The Florida Department of Elder Affairs defines elder abuse as “any knowing, intentional or negligent act causing harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.”

Most legal definitions require that the person doing the abuse is a caregiver or someone in a position of trust to the older person. That lady doesn’t fit the definition. 

I think that oversimplifies the problem. We should all consider ourselves caregivers to the elderly. That was my final conclusion, and that shopper was not playing her role. 

Caregivers for seniors have very similar rules to nannies and babysitters. If it had been an adult yelling at a little kid at a store, everyone would be flipping out. 

The man who was being yelled at was not a child. But I think he should be cared for with the same level of delicacy.

At what age do we lose that compassion? 

Protecting the “imago Dei” in others

The Bible talks about humans being created in the image of God — the imago Dei. We were created with inherent dignity and value unlike any other creature on earth. 

When do we stop seeing other people as bearers of the image of God? 

I think there’s a role for believers to be not only image bearers but image protectors. We are called to protect the dignity of every person, especially those who are the most vulnerable. 

I was glad I was able to help, in my very short-lived and non-heroic way. I said very few words. I thanked a few people. But the man was grateful, saying “Thank you young man for standing there and waiting for me to solve this.”

Maybe that’s all it takes sometimes. My presence made a difference. The logo on my shirt clearly made a difference. 

It’s not by chance that God allows us to witness things that we’re passionate about. 

Later, this month, I’ll talk more about elder abuse and what we can do to stop it. Until then, if you suspect or see a senior friend being abused, mistreated or neglected, please speak up. Be a deterring presence. Report the abuse

Everyone should stand ready to care for the vulnerable in our community.

Read more about:
Juan Gallo
Juan Gallo is the CEO of Heart2Heart Outreach, where he oversees the mobilization of volunteers to provide hope, share love and restore purpose to the lives of the aging population across South Florida.

He also serves as a local pastor and as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University, where he is teaching a course on diversity and aging. Juan has a master’s degree in counseling and psychology and is a licensed mental health counselor intern.

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This blog is a frank conversation about what it means to age in our society.

I want us to consider what a wider range of diverse experiences when we talk about aging. I want to reflect on how we, as a community, want our neighbors and our mothers and fathers and our grandparents to live out their latter decades of life. I want us to consider each one of their voices as we strive to meet their needs.

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