The United Nations has had its eye on the problem of our ageing population for many years now. They predict that “by 2050 more than 20 per cent of the world’s population will be 60 years old or older” and that “the increase in the number of older people will be greatest and most rapid in the developing world”. (1)
It is a sad fact that not all of those people will be treated well as they age. When we think of the various forms of financial, emotional and physical abuse and exploitation occurring in the world around us, the abuse of the elders in our society is not often top of mind.
In recognising this, the UN General Assembly designated 15th June as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Ban Ki-moon, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, mentioned elder abuse in his message for 2016. He gave an example of women being accused of witchcraft. Various articles point to this being a strategy for families and communities to seize the property and assets of the accused. We might read these articles and think, “how strange … but that could never happen here.”
Wrong. It is not only in developing countries where elders suffer abuse. Exploitation may take a more subtle form in the first world, but it certainly exists.
In the case of financial abuse this can include pressuring, co-ercing or forcing the elderly person to enter into contracts or arrangements which benefit the younger person but disadvantage the giver.
As well as the obvious: verbal abuse and name-calling, psychological and emotional abuse can include bullying, controlling, threatening, and belittling behaviours, withdrawing affection and attention, or preventing family visits.
Disturbingly, such abuse is most often perpetrated by someone whom the victim knows and trusts – in other words, it can be their own relatives. This puts the sufferer in a very delicate situation. They may recognise what is happening, but be reluctant to act, preferring to prioritise familial bonds over their own well-being.
Various organisations held events last Thursday to highlight the problem, and what services are available to help. Here are just a few:-
The IRT Foundation (who produces The Good Life programme I was hosting last year), have given a community grant of A$9967 to Legal Aid ACT to provide a solicitor via an outreach service at Canberra Hospital.
Seniors Rights Victoria provides “information, support, advice and education to help prevent elder abuse and safeguard the rights, dignity and independence of older people.” You can see more on their website www.seniorsrights.org.au
And FMC Mediation and Counselling (Victoria) has developed a Respecting Elders service – a confidential process of consultation, support, mediation and conflict resolution. I recommend you take a few minutes to watch their video which explains the situation and their service in more detail.
There are many more organisations springing up around the globe. If you are interested in finding what services are available in your area, one place to look would be an internet search on ‘Elder Abuse’ or ‘World Elder Abuse Awareness Day’. Your local doctor or seniors organisation may also have information.
(1) United Nations General Assembly, 9 Mar 2012, A/RES/66/127