Disrespecting the Elderly by Lisa Fitzpatrick

Photo by PoPville flickr user Hoodsweatsh

Ed. Note: Lisa is a facebook friend of mine and when I saw her note I contacted her immediately. She has allowed me to post her thought here. It is a very upsetting read but a very important one.

“Last night as I was walking out of the hospital, an elderly woman, 80 years old, called out to me and asked if I could give her a ride home. She was a dialysis patient and said she had been waiting for her transportation for 3 ½ hours. It was 745pm.

I told her I would be happy to drive the car around to get her. As I approached in my car, my heart sank as I watched this feeble woman hobbling to the curb with her cane. Her movements were so slow and deliberate, it was almost as if she was intentionally moving in slow motion. I had to assist her to enter the car. As if her circumstances were not appalling enough, the conversation we had in the car on the way to her Columbia Heights apartment upset me even more.

She told me how she called her grandson earlier that day to ask for a ride home and how he refused and cursed her out because she would not give him money. She lives alone and when I asked who looks after her she said, “I look after myself”. She does have some assistance. They are young female “helpers” who come to assist her a few times a week. It turns out they come to “help” themselves more than they help her. She related how they systematically and consistently pilfer her belongings and daily essentials. Toilet paper, food, laundry soap, small change—each disappearing little by little. She doesn’t refuse the help but knows that she would probably be better off without them. She sent one of them to the grocery store. The young lady bought some of the things she needed and then spent or took the rest of the money for herself.

Continues after the jump.

In the less than 10 minute drive to her home, she told me at least a half dozen stories about opportunistic and selfish young people who have taken advantage of her. I then asked about whether or not she was linked into the District’s support system for the aging. Well she was. In fact, it was the District’s transportation service that facilitated our chance meeting.

Our elders are among society’s most vulnerable. I am horrified by the disrespect shown to our elders. I am ashamed and embarrassed for us as a society and more importantly as a city. It is time for us to teach our young people to respect our elders and to bolster the support and elders’ access to these services. We must appreciate the paths they have paved and opportunities they have afforded us. We are indeed standing on the shoulders of giants and our elders deserve the respect of kings and queens.

I helped her out of the car then gave her my number. I told her she could call me if she needed assistance. As I drove away, my heart ached for the hundreds or maybe even thousands of invisible elders, frail, feeble and alone just like her who need an honest, helping hand. I am grateful she had the spirit and courage to ask a complete stranger for assistance. We have to do better. For them and for ourselves.”

51 Comment

  • Great job Lisa. Society needs more caring people like you.

  • I was very close to both of my grandmothers. One practically raised me. I could never even conceive of raising my voice to either of those sweet ladies, let alone stealing from them! Unbelievable. And sad.

  • This is a very inspiring story and reminder to take the time to help someone in need, even a stranger. Although not even close to the level that you witnessed, just a couple of days ago I saw two college age girls blatantly butt in front of an elderly woman at the grocery store. I wanted to say something so badly about how disrespectful it was but I felt it wasn’t my place to do so. I just can’t even fathom the thought of taking advantage of someone so frail. Its small deeds like yours that remind us that good deeds, regardless of how big or small, should be made more often. Thank you.

    • Sorry to fuss at you, but you should have said something. The problem with punks like this is that nobody calls them on it. Somebody should have spanked them – a lot! – when they were growing up. Instead they probably grew up mouthing off to their elders and getting away with everything.

      They probably would have just cursed you out and told you to mind your own business, but at least *somebody* would have done *something*.

      • Or they “probably” couldve assaulted him/her. Everybody doesnt want to be a hero and they shouldnt be chastised for it.

        • I politely suggested that she should have said something. Calling it “chastising” is a stretch. And I wouldn’t consider it being a hero either. It’s just the right thing to do when we live in a society together.

          But I take your point. You can’t predict their reaction… which is why I used the word ‘probably,’ which apparently irked you. Probably.

          • + 1 – it was in a grocery store – not a back alley. What were they going to do – beat you to death with a carton of milk?

    • whose place was it, then, to say something?

  • You should send a copy of this to Mayor Fenty and Council Member Jim Graham. I don’t see either of them paying much attention to this city’s aging population.

    • You didn’t see that brand new big Senior’s place going up on Georgia Avenue…

      Unless Senior means something else, you statement is just stupid and wrong.

      • And your comment is rude without actually proving your point.

        Just because a senior center is being built does not show causality that contradicts the original statement. A large senior center could be going up to benefit the developers, builders and numerous others. It does not necessarily mean that F&G are paying “much attention” to the elderly.

      • You’ve got it bad for Jim Graham. We get it.

  • Sad story. Even sadder that the families are so dysfunctional that they don’t help their own. My mom just moved to DC from the South to live with me. We/I chose not to have my mother dependent on the gov’t. More people should feel the same. When it comes to things that are personal like housing, rearing your children, transportation, food, only you and your family can reliably help you. The gov’t is not equipped to do these things. It fails more often that it succeeds.

    • I’m not generally a Shrugger, but I agree with you here. Families need to help their own, if only because the gub’ment does such a sorry job of it.

      and on top of that, it’s the Goddamned right thing to do!

  • Now for the snarky/cynical me. These communities didn’t get so bad without a lot of the old people being bad young people. I have encountered some rude and disrespectful young girls that are going to grow old one day. This lady presumably raised a child whose grandson disrespects her.

    This level of disrespect doesn’t just happen in one generation.

    • I think you really need to take into account the generational gap between the elderly and modern day “kids” before saying something like this. The culture is completely different and totally to blame.

      • That is not true. My grandmothers both lived to be 80+. I never stole from or cursed either out. If she needed a ride and I was available, she got it. No stranger had to do for my grandmothers. This generation isn’t any different. Some people are just getting worse.

        Look around at the young girls today. They are having children by the young disrespectful men with their pants hanging low. How can we expect their children to be anymore respectful than their mothers/fathers?

        • I really don’t think you can dispute the fact that there is a major generational gap in terms of respect and maturity between 80 year olds who grew up in the 1930s/40s and children today. This degradation within youth culture is something that, arguably, wasn’t necessarily prevalent until the ’80s.

      • You cannot blame this on the generation gap. The generation gap doesnt teach you to be disrespectful to the elderly.

        Like JognGlat, I agree this sort of behavior just doesnt arise out of nowhere. But the old lady here cannot be blamed for everything, people make mistakes, she probably made one of not raising her kids properly, or maybe her kids made a mistake of not raising their kids properly.

        Whoever made the mistake, she should not be subjected to such behavior by her family and specially the “help” she is receiving.

        The city cannot force the grandson to help her, but can definitely look into the volunteer help she is getting that is stealing from her.

        • Yes, because, similarly to all of us privileged white people, most other people, specifically lifelong DC residents, have the luxury of never having to work numerous jobs that keep us from their children, never having to worry about horrible school systems mismanaging their children, never having to worry about street-influence on their children, never feeling as though they were without a voice in the city they call home, etc.

          Thank god we ALL have blogs like this to voice our concerns and thank god their are people like you who realize the one main detractor from a child’s positive upbringing is bad parenting and the bad parenting in question is generally out of CHOICE and not any sort of socio-economic reason.

          This is exactly why I can’t post comments on this blog. Jesus Christ…

          • you’re making a lot of assumptions about the races of all the people involved, as well as the assumption that all the readers and posters here belong to the monolithic “privileged white people” group.

            speak for yourself, chica.

          • you can take your white guilt and shove it. its unproductive and meaningless to anyone but you. this nation is full of savage inequalities and unless you can magically shed your skin, your white privilege will never go away. so find a way to make it work for these sympathetic characters that are putting heavy burden on your heart instead of crying around on the Prince’s blog. you are the exact kind-of poster this blog needs LESS of.

            and the LAST time i checked, babies don’t magically show up in a uterus unannounced. they’re a result of sex. you know the act of procreation. you can’t lie down in a pigsty without expecting to get muddy.

  • Thank you for sharing this. A reminder indeed. Does anyone know of reputable volunteer organizations that help the elderly (in particular stay independent in their homes)?

    • I would also be interested in volunteering for something like this. With a full-time job and a child, my time isn’t unlimited, but I would like to connect with someone in my neighborhood who needs occasional rides or shopping assistance. Or even just company.

    • It’s (unfortunately) neighborhood specific, but Capitol Hill Village is great. (capitolhillvillage.org)

    • the poster said that she was already connected with them – DCOA was the ride she had been waiting hours for.

      I did jury duty on a corruption case involved the DCOA and wouldn’t expect much from them given what I heard.

  • I commend Lisa for her compassion. It is important to be aware, however, of the fact that the symptoms of dimentia/Alzheimer’s disease include paranoia, confusion, delusions of grandeur, and violent/aggressive/angry mood swings. Many loved ones will begin to act out against their own children, spouses, etc. by blaming them for stealing or otherwise taking advantage of them in the onset. Not saying that’s what happened here, but Lisa should be sure to protect herself first and foremost when she reaches out to help others. Certainly, she can help this woman ensure that she’s taking steps to safeguard her health, including making sure she’s getting regular physicals and screenings by her doctor.

    Your message is a good one, Lisa. Take care.

    • This is certainly true. Alzheimer’s patients frequently misplace things, and forget how much money they gave their caretaker to buy something (if at all) and the people caring for them get all the blame and anger. They hire contractors and then refuse to pay. They break, use up and throw things away and then get angry when they can’t find them later. Their lucidity comes and goes. Not that everything the elderly lady says isn’t true.

  • Sad story, but I applaud this individual for her actions. Not to be a debbie downer, but people need to be careful who they let inside their car. This story turned out well, but not every story has the same ending. Crimes are commited by people disguised as the elderly. All I’m saying is be careful. Sometimes a $10 bill to a cab driver might be a little safer.

    • SRSLY?

      “Crimes are commited by people disguised as the elderly.”

      The comments on this website never seem to amaze me.

      • so you find it completely impossible to imagine that someone who is prone to mug/con/harm another person might reach an advanced age and use the appearance of vulnerability to take advantage of a stranger?

        may seem cynical and unlikely, but it’s not outside the realm. Even street thuggies get older sometimes.

        • It’s also possible that crimes could be committed by people dressed in space-alien costumes. But I’m not going to lose sleep over it.

          EDIT: WTF is up with the “you are posting comments too fast” that won’t even let me post one fracking comment?

          • gotta pause a couple of beats before hitting ‘submit’. bugs the bejesus out of me too.

            I don’t think the poster meant muggers are literally disguised as old people with wigs and shawls draped over their glocks. or maybe he/she did. I don’t know. But I took it in the figurative sense: wolf in sheep’s clothing scenario.

        • You’re really reaching for straws here..

    • Seriously? You get into a car with a stranger every time you take a cab. The cabbie is most likely a lot stronger than an elderly woman and probably has a gun too. I’d feel a lot safer picking up an elderly woman than taking a cab in this city.

    • “Sometimes a $10 bill to a cab driver might be a little safer.”

      Since most elderly people refuse to take cabs out of principle (why take a cab when you can take the bus for 1/10th the price?) you probably can’t get them in a cab even if you’re paying for it.

      • cabs have been around much longer than any old person you see. the “most elderly people refuse to take cabs” is a wild and weird assumption.

        • Wild and weird? Seriously? I don’t know of any elderly person, aside from the very rich/upper class, that would take a cab. If they’ve lived through the Depression or immigra
          ted here because of poverty, they’d find it extremely frivolous and wasteful.

  • I applaud Lisa’s willingness to help a stranger, however….

    If you had gotten into an accident (even one that was not your fault) while this stranger was in your car, I can guarantee that people would be crawling out of the woodwork to sue you.

    • +1. All those punk ass grandkids who don’t give a damn about her now would want a piece of the claim too.

    • Those are some pretty lame excuses for not helping someone in need. I’d rather hear “I just don’t have the time or interest,” than all this pathetic defensive justification for folks’ insularity.

  • I’ve been trying to make an effort to be aware of elderly people who may be standing outside waiting for transit. It’s dangerous for them to be out in this heat for very long, and if I’m not in a hurry I can offer them a ride or at least a bottle of water.

  • Lisa – home care workers stealing from clients is elder abuse and should be reported. If you hear of cases such as this, report it to the DC Office on Aging – they have an adult protective services group (as all states do) that deals with abuse and neglect among seniors.

  • I know this isn’t a funny post/story, but it reminds me of a funny on from The Onion:


  • I cut and pasted the following from the DC Dept of human services. I strongly urge you to call and talk this over with the social worker. you can remain anonymous. Fortunately, you know where she lives.

    Adult Protective Services

    What is adult abuse?
    Adult abuse generally refers to mistreatment of an older person by someone who has a special relationship with the elder such as a spouse, sibling, child, friend, or caregiver. Abuse may take the form of one or all of the following: physical, financial or emotional abuse, neglect or abandonment. Abuse includes the willful infliction of serious pain or injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation or forced sexual contact.

    Who are the abusers?
    Typically, the abuser is a relative, frequently an adult child of the victim. The abusers may suffer from alcohol or drug abuse. Sometimes the abusers were abused as children. The abuser may be emotionally unstable. Sometimes, the caregiver can no longer cope with a stressful situation and does not know where to turn for help.

    Why don’t the abused report it?
    Many who suffer from abuse may feel ashamed and embarrassed and suffer from low self esteem. Some don’t want to report their own child as an abuser. Often the abused simply fears more abuse if they report it. Others are too feeble to think clearly, or they may not realize that help is available.

    What should I do?
    It’s up to you to break the silence. Certain people are required by law to report abusers. They are conservators and guardians, court-appointed mental retardation advocates, police officers, licensed health professionals, health care administrators and social workers. Others such as neighbors, church members, relatives, and friends may report voluntarily. Persons reporting voluntarily need not identify themselves.

    Who do I call for help?
    Call the hotline at (202) 541-3950. More victims are helped by callers outside the family than in it. When you call the hotline, a social worker will assist you. The social worker will take information about your concerns and will conduct an investigation to determine if abuse, neglect, or exploitation is occurring. Sometimes medical or psychiatric care helps resolve the problem. In other cases, services can be provided to victims in their homes or they can be removed from danger.

    If the investigation indicates that a person is in need of protection, a variety of services may be made available to them. Social workers may arrange for counseling, legal services, emergency placement, and/or medical services.

    What if I make a mistake?
    The person you are worried about can refuse intervention. The merely eccentric will be left in peace. And your identity will be protected, because reports are confidential.

  • lisa might want to help this woman get in touch with “we are family” a local volunteer group that helps seniors in columbia heights (and a few other dc neighborhoods). and some pop readers might be interested in volunteering there. the website is: http://www.wearefamilydc.org

  • All,
    These comments are very entertaining. Some sad though. Anyway, the same day I posted the note on Facebook I sent it to Mayor Fenty, Jim Graham and Vince Gray. Jim Graham responded immediately and commented that this is a serious problem that required action. He asked if he could follow up with her.

    I saw her at the hospital two days later—no she is not a criminal in disguise and no she is not demented—and she agreed.

    In addition, I had two people who saw the FB post call me to ask if they could help the lady. Yes it was all very sad but it showed me that there are many folks who want to assist the elderly. In fact, I suspected there was a need and submitted a proposal to DC Serves to create a buddy program for the elderly and it was rejected. The issue needs attention.

    As for those of you who are concerned about my safety or threat of being sued–thank you. But the day I become afraid to offer a helping hand to an elderly person in need is the day I cease to exist as the person I am. I didnt think twice about. and I would do it again…even after such “interesting” and precautionary advice.

    Prince, thanks for posting.
    by the way, I own a house in Petworth 🙂

Comments are closed.