As a young girl I remember visiting assisted living communities, nursing homes, and hospices to see aging and dying relatives. These homes tried to foster a homey atmosphere, decorating for holidays and providing activities to the elderly. As a child, and even today, I trusted that I left my loved ones in good care. However, this is a naive assumption. Research documents that these organizations mismanage and neglect our aging population.
We live in a culture of ageism, one that values youth, and devalues the previous generation. For years ,the mainstream media marginalized the discrimination that elderly people face today in America. For example, many individuals remain largely unaware that the nation’s coroner and medical examiner offices’ frequently misdiagnose and carelessly examine the elderly upon their death. These offices are responsible for examining sudden and unusual fatalities; however they fail to properly perform these duties for a variety of reasons.
ProPublica’s studies found that these agencies are crippled by chronic underfunding, a shortage of trained doctors, and absent national standards. Within this study, investigators researched elderly death cases discovering that a significant percentage of elderly suffered from mistreatment before their death. This mistreatment included medication errors, dehydration, malnourishment, decubitus ulcers (bed sores), and suffocation. Investigators exposed the agencies’ systematic flaws allowing for elderly death cases to be ignored or improperly addressed. Some of these deficiencies include:
- In most sates doctors can sign off/ fill out death certificates without seeing the body, or even visiting the patient in months. This allows apparent abuse to go unnoticed
- Doctors misdiagnose the cause of death as natural for convenience.
- Coroners and medical examiners almost never investigate elderly deaths when doctor’s identify the death as natural.
- Autopsies of seniors have decreased even as our aging population grows (37%-17% from 1972-2007).
Now, it is more critical than ever to improve our elderly assistance programs through more regulated systems and higher standards for their caretakers. Not only have individuals suffered from the systems’ shortcomings, but soon we will too.