Just a thought. What is elder abuse? We often think of the term applying only to those highly dependent on others in advanced stages of aging, often facing visible neglect, physical or emotional. But elder abuse is more than that. Where does it start, when is it happening, and how do you recognize it? What happens when – in a dangerous world – it gets asked about a president?
Loss of cognitive ability – let alone manipulation of those losing it – can be subtle, for example seeking outcomes favorable to the manipulators without consideration for the person being manipulated, forcing undue exposure to stress, difficult settings, creating setups for stumbling.
Concretely, an aging spouse, care assistor, or professional colleague can become a source of overdependence, opening the door to subtle manipulation. Often aging sports and movie stars are put in public settings, compelled to speak or perform while fading – with detriment to all.
Likewise, a fading light can be propped up, spoken for, repeatedly nudged, corrected, or protected until seemingly unable to manage him or herself in public, covered to a point of embarrassment with mood swings, missed cues, errors explained, until at last assistance, it is a charade not caring.
How do you know when that is what you are seeing? How does anyone articulate the hard-to-express or give voice to a fading light hoping to minimize distress, leaning, losing ground, looking around for what is not there, support from the wings, and more and more things?
These are tough questions on the personal front, the sort that cause caring hearts to intercede, assuring risks are avoided, difficult events less frequently attended, embarrassment minimized, and mental, physical, emotional – in some cases personal or political – errors are avoided.
Just as those losing bits of memory from a stroke or age keep lists, those who must speak in public while gradually losing cogency also keep lists, trying to assure things are written out for them, working not to miss cues, words, place, or pace, covering for loss of cadence and cognition.
Only the thing can still become painful to watch or visibly hard to see happening. The question again arises – how much is too much? When mood swings become regular not intermittent, and when public expectations change from crispness to worry over the next gaff, things get edgy.
Is it elder abuse – on the part of an ambitious spouse, personal or professional handlers, colleagues who do not want to see or admit progressive decline, who think one more exposure is alright as long as the fading mind is not left one-on-one with the wrong person, errors corrected?
In normal times, normal surroundings, normal people in normal settings tolerate what they can –as much as basic goodness and collective conscience within a family will allow, hoping for the best, leaning toward interaction over isolation, and indulging the loss for a larger purpose.
But for what it is worth, the stakes get higher in abnormal times, surroundings, and settings, where those managing the situation have a lot to gain from keeping the exposure up, even if it causes the afflicted party to become the object of derision and growing embarrassment.
Famously, more than one Supreme Court justice has asked colleagues to alert him if he seems to be slipping. Famously more than one US Senator has resigned, retired, or gone reclusive when mental capacities trigger public comment and concern, and move toward condemnation and ridicule.
All this is less relevant – questions about when to pull chalks, call it a day, avoid public exposure, conjecture about capacity, stress, mood swings, and elder abuse – when the setting is family and friends, where stakes are minimal, risks manageable, and the impact of face-to-face error small.
But, for the record, that is not the case when the object of increasing conjecture, pressure, fumbles, stumbles, stress, missed cues, lost orientation, vocabulary, syntax, awkward pauses, appropriateness of the behavior – and stakes surrounding mistakes – involve a president.
Whether or not a time is coming when conscience, concern, and basic decency should lead to a rethink about Mr. Biden’s evolving mental acuity – and what should be done – is one thing. Conscience should always override political considerations, opportunism, and inconvenience.
The larger question, however, is what happens to a nation that permits its chief executive to fade publicly, vigor sliding, cues missed, words, moods, and context slipping, in a highly dangerous world? Is there a time in the White House, Congress, or public, when tough questions must be answered? That is the tough question – before elder abuse – that now needs thought.
More broadly, world crises often result from insufficient anticipation and forethought, avoiding hard questions, imagining adversaries are friends, or that they will not do what they threaten. The US is on notice – from China’s aggressive Communist Congress last seek to Russia’s aggression, from Iran’s aggressive intentions to North Korea’s launches. We are bobbling options for deterrence with regularity. This might be a good time to ask tough questions … Just a thought.