Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Guardianship of the Infantilized Elder: A Pipeline to the Institution Industrial Complex?

Chronologies for aging move, by clocks and calendars, from past to future across the lifespan. But not without exception. When it comes to social status for some individuals, time seems to reverse course. Teenagers demanding adult status complain relentlessly over being treated like a young child.

We notice a helicoptering parent, babying a third grader with smothering overprotection. This phenomenon has been referred to, psychodynamically, as infantilization-treating an individual as if they were much younger than their chronological age. Earlier in my career, I became interested in the ways that adults with intellectual disability were infantilized, patronized, and robbed of their autonomy (Fettgather, 1987), including how they were given double-binding mixed messages to act like an adult even as they were treated like children (Fettgather, 1989). I am now turning to questions of how elders, especially those experiencing impairments associated with aging, may be diminished by practices associated with a similar social construct.

In recent years, I became acquainted with a legal device, “plenary guardianship”, wherein guardians retain all rights, powers and decisions over wards who are believed to lack capacity to care for themselves. This device seems to mirror the psychosocial experience of infantilization, but with potentially more devastating and permanent consequences. Based on a concept of parens patriae (parent of the nation) dating back centuries, the king had an explicit duty to protect those presumed to lack the capacity for managing their own lives-state sanctioned infantilization. Similarly, the contemporary “plenary guardian” is deemed ‘parent to the elder’ (or intellectually/psychosocially disabled person) who has been determined to lack adult capacity in a socio-legal construction of perpetual infancy-childhood. Plenary guardianship takes all decision-making from the ward and places it in the hands of an all powerful guardian.

In the spring of 2014, I attended the 3rd World Congress on Adult Guardianship. The conference highlighted worldwide, growing concerns and critiques of plenary guardianship. Many contemporary deconstructions of guardianship suggest that too often it is undue, overbroad and overprotective (Martinis, n.d., One Person, Many Choices; Blanck and Martinis, 2015). I argue that even benevolent guardianships may infantilize, fostering dependence and regression. And for elders of means, there is considerable anecdotal evidence of forced isolation with estate plundering by public and professional guardians. US Government Accounting Office Reports (GOA) beginning in 2004 (Government Accountability Office, 2004), and subsequent reports through 2012, show consistent patterns of financial exploitation and neglect. For example, one guardian embezzled $640,000 from the estate of an 87 year old man with Alzheimers Disease. Protective services discovered the man residing in a filthy basement and wearing just an old shirt and a diaper.

Beyond property, the very body of vulnerable elders becomes a commodity in an institution industrial complex that unites private business with government interests with an emphasis on profit making and social control (similar to the prison industrial complex). For example, Liat Ben-Moshe (Ben-Moshe, n.d., The Institution Yet to Come) emphasizes the nexus of impaired mind-bodies with an institution industrial complex dedicated to careerism: “political economists of disability argue that disability supports a whole industry of professionals that keeps the economy afloat, such as service providers, case managers, medical professionals, health care specialists etc”. With the absolute authority of a plenary guardianship, the concern is that guardians may force institutionalization into nursing home facilities where profit is the bottom line-a kind of pipeline into the institution industrial complex. Charlene Harrington, researcher at UCSF investigating care at nursing homes, summed up her findings, “Poor quality of care is endemic in many nursing homes, but we found that the most serious problems occur in the largest for-profit chains” that keep costs low to increase profits (Fernandez, 2011). A 2015 study at Hunter College also found that 12% of guardianships were initiated by nursing homes as a means to collect debt from residents (Bernstein, 2015).

Isolation is often achieved by limiting or denying visitation to hide poor living conditions or inadequate care from public scrutiny.

[We] align ourselves with an international group of stakeholders who believe that incapacity should not be presumed (Dinerstein, 2012). Alternatively, we are committed to the presumption of capacity and to advancing supported decision-making as an alternative to plenary guardianship for elders and people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. In this model, decisions, supported by one or more persons, are made by the individual who has ultimate authority over his/her life. Personhood is honored, with no one acting as surrogate parent. We believe that this approach, with appropriate safeguards, oversight and subject to regular review, will disrupt the pipeline from guardianship to institution industrial complex. It will help reset clocks and calendars for heretofore infantilized adults and restore dignity, autonomy and adult status to the decision-making process.

Full Article & Source:
Guardianship of the Infantilized Elder: A Pipeline to the Institution Industrial Complex?

1 comment:

NASGA Member said...

I really like the term "inantilized elder"