The first country to recognize elder abuse in its social and legislative policy was the United States in the 1950s, when the Government developed financial incentives for States to develop protective service programs. By 1979, the US Congress had held special hearings and, according to its findings, reported that elder abuse was indeed extensive. Abuse of elderly people is commemorated every year by World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on 15 June.
In 2010, the US enacted the Elder Justice Act 2010, thereby establishing a legal framework under which federal resources can be used to prevent, detect, treat, understand, intervene in and, where appropriate, prosecute elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.It wasn’t until the 1980s, however, that scientific research and government actions began to be reported in other countries; namely, Australia, Canada, China (Hong Kong SAR), Norway and Sweden. Even so, information on its extent is still scarce. Like child abuse, it remains veiled in shame.
Putting a face to abuse in Kyrgyzstan
Elder Abuse Awareness Day
With a focus on human rights, gender equality and population aging, the United Nations General Assembly established June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEADD). Its hope is “to encourage communities to recognize the problem of elderly abuse and for countries to create policies that foster respect for elders and provide them the tools to continue to be productive citizens.”
The most recent statistics of elder abuse worldwide are based on a small number of population-based surveys conducted over a period of 20 years in the 1980s and 1990s. According to these studies, the United Nations estimated in 2002 that 4-6% of older persons had experienced some form of abuse at home. The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) is currently conducting the first large-scale global survey of elder abuse. With a total of 53 countries responding from all six WHO regions, it represents more countries than any previous study. According to Phase I findings, poverty and a lack of social support were considered the leading causes of elder abuse in developing countries; in developed countries, it was living alone and the lack of social support.
With increased awareness among countries and the general public, and rapidly aging populations, the number of reported cases is set to increase if not explode. This has led some to ask whether elder abuse will be the crime of the 21st century.
A joint report published by the OECD and the European Commission on the occasion of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 last month (see break-out box) reported that, though most countries studied have legislation in place to prevent abuse, very few maintain structures to systematically measure the safety and efficacy of long-term care. A difficult task given that 70% of the dependent elderly people in the countries surveyed receive care at home.
Elder abuse is a worldwide phenomenon that takes many forms and shows no prejudice to gender, socio-economic group, culture, race or ethnicity. It can be an act of commission or of omission, intentional or unintentional. Abuse can be financial or material, physical or involve emotional or verbal aggression. However, no matter what form it takes, elder abuse violates the dignity and human rights of the older person and decreases their quality of life.
The root cause of elder abuse is complex and more research is needed. Among others, to find out whether age discrimination and marginalization of the elderly plays a role. Currently,
a campaign is underway to call on national governments to insist on a new United Nations convention on the rights of older persons. A convention would facilitate change by providing governments with a legal framework, guidance and support in preventing elder abuse. FINANCIAL ABUSE MOST PREVALENT
To mark WEAAD, HelpAge International published
findings of research that reveals the high levels of violence and abuse in developing countries where such information is usually unavailable. The study looks at five areas of violence and abuse (financial, psychological, physical, sexual and malicious accusations) among women and men over the age of 50. In Mozambique, Peru and Kyrgyzstan, 63% of all respondents reported having suffered some form of abuse. In Peru, this percentage was above 80% for both the men and women surveyed. The most prevalent form was financial. The full report is expected to be published in September 2013.
In Germany, this led to 79-year-old Sieglinde to attempt suicide. Her daughter-in-law of 25 years cleaned out her financial accounts before leaving her son for another man. It wasn’t the money that tipped Sieglinde over the edge. It was the existential disappointment in a woman she had come to love as her own daughter.