In 1990, two ex-civil servants founded a company called ‘Cúram’ (meaning Care and Protection in Irish). The company would go on to be the world’s leading provider of Social Enterprise Management (SEM) software solutions. The company was acquired by IBM in 2011 due to its innovation and ability to deliver social programmes.

One of the founders of the company is Dublin-born Ronan Rooney, who also happens to be my father. He’s currently Director for Programs of Care for IBM Research, and has written an article this week entitled, “Nearest and Dearest”. Enjoy!

Nearest and Dearest Image Credit: Monimix (Flickr)

Nearest and Dearest
Image Credit: Monimix (Flickr)

Nearest and Dearest

We as a society may not care – or at least not care enough – about our minority populations. You may think that there’s nothing new in this – except perhaps when one of the most maligned minorities consists entirely of our “nearest and dearest” – our parents.

In her testimony last month to the Senate Special Committee on Ageing Hearing, Kathleen Quinn, stated,

About one in ten persons 60 and older have been abused, neglected or financially exploited in the last twelve months. With 10,000 people turning 65 every day for the next decade and a half, it means that about a 1,000 of them are mistreated. This translates into approximately 5 million victims annually.

A 1988 study in Boston showed a prevalence rate of 32 maltreated older people per 1,000, while a 1989 study in Canada showed a rate of 40 per 1,000 older people; the rates were 2 per 1,000 for physical violence, 11 per 1,000 for verbal aggression,4 per 1,000 for neglect, and 25 per 1,000 for material or financial exploitation.

An elderly person holding a small flower in hands Image Credit: MLazarevski (Flickr)

An elderly person holding a small flower in hands
Image Credit: MLazarevski (Flickr)

As Kathleen pointed out, the number of elderly who are abused is more than the combined totals for Child Abuse and Domestic Violence. The government spending per victim for Child Abuse is $5,920 while the expenditure on Elderly Abuse is just $1.91 per victim.

Before we look at how we as a society behave, what about we as individuals? How do we respond to caring for our own elderly? Suppose for a moment that you’re one of the “sandwich generation”, a 50-something with a frail, elderly parent and children still in full-time education. After 25+ years of working hard in good jobs you’ve managed to put aside a nice nest egg of say €100,000. Now, suppose that one of your children is diagnosed with an acute illness, just as your frail parent exhibits a significant decline in their health.

Old man sitting on bench Image Credit: Public Places (Flickr)

Old man sitting on bench
Image Credit: Public Places (Flickr)

The doctors supporting your child and your parent both let you know that the cost of in-home care for each is likely to be €100,000 over 3 or 4 years. What will you do?   What if your child’s illness is terminal and, in both cases you’re faced with similar timescales to end of life? On the other hand, what if your children are happy and healthy but the prognosis for your elderly parent remains the same but there is an option for nursing home care that would cost just €50,000 over the same period? There may even be a government-funded nursing home available at little or no cost and, after all you’ve paid your taxes, and you’ve heard that the care is reasonably good?

So, is it that we as a society, or we as individuals, measure and value opportunity cost in shaping our views and actions on care for our elderly? After all, 90% of elder abuse is carried out by members of the victim’s family.  Perhaps it’s no surprise then that we can seem content to allocate just $1.91 for the elderly who are victims of abuse?

Sometimes the difficult questions are the ones we simply don’t want to answer.

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