On December 19, 2011 the United Nations officially recognized Elder Abuse as a global social issue which affects the health and human rights of millions of older persons around the world, and an issue that deserves the attention of the international community. Every year, on June 15, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day or WEAAD would be a day where all around the world, people would acknowledge that Elder Abuse is a serious issue in all communities, no matter what race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) instituted the first WEAAD on June 16, 2006. From the INPEA website: “Elder abuse, perhaps the last taboo, is widely unrecognized and grossly under reported around the Globe, according to the studies undertaken by many INPEA members and numerous countries. Established in 1997, INPEA has lead the way in raising awareness and urging NGOs, grassroots organizations and governments to action. Today, INPEA, together with the Global Coalition on the Rights of Older Persons is working towards a new UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons.
This year, was the inaugural year of holding the event at the United Nations. Not only was I fortunate enough to attend, but I also had a part in it. I created the program used by the participants. You can download it HERE.
We had a number of great guests and speakers during the United Nations event, including representatives from Argentina, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and a number of advocates, researchers and organization in the field of elder abuse awareness. A special recognition to the country of Argentina was made at the beginning of the program, as Argentina was the first country under the leadership of Eva Peron, that called for the First UN Declaration on the Rights of Older Persons. They continue the trend today as they are active in bringing this issue up in the UN’s agenda.
We had a number of great speakers (read their bios through the program link above) to see the work that has been happening around the world regarding Elder Abuse awareness. Pictured below (left) is Mr. Chhatra Pradhan, a well-known figure in Nepal for his work on ageing issues after retiring as a Senior Superintendent of Police. His passion and work spoke through his words as he shared his experiences from front-line work in advocacy and support for seniors in Nepal. Pictured below (right) is Ms. Bethany Brown, Policy Director of HelpAge USA. She is working to change the way policy makers think about older people by promoting HelpAge’s work in advocacy. Dr. Josephine Tan (not pictured) is working with Aboriginal populations in Ontario, her focus on Aboriginal health issues, especially those arising from emotional trauma associated with interpersonal abuse in Aboriginal communities, is part of the process of reconciliation and healing needed, as she identifies many health and social problems linked to the history of colonialism and interpersonal abuse within the residential school system.
Today, I was invited to be a part of a press conference held at New York’s City Hall protesting the expected cuts to Elder Abuse programs in New York city’s five boroughs. Advocates, allies, organizations, government officials and the media gathered in front of the steps of City Hall to exercise the rights of elders. The motto of the day was: “THERE IS NO EXCUSE TO CUT ELDER ABUSE” I thought the event was great. It was even more encouraging to see many seniors come out to exercise their rights. A couple of District Attorney’s also were present and made statements of how important it was to be aware of Elder Abuse and how it spans across all ethnicities, communities and socioeconomic status. The New York City council also distributed a brochure for everyone outlining how to recognize abuse and how to get help (pictured below right).
As a part of my knowledge, here is a quick summary of questions about Elder Abuse (Credit: Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse)
What is Elder Abuse?
It refers to actions that harm an older person or jeopardize the person’s health or welfare. According to the World Health Organization, abuse and neglect of older adults can be a single or repeated act. It can occur in any relationship where there is an expectation of trust or where a person is in a position of power or authority.
Is it just physical abuse?
Abuse can be physical (e.g. hitting), emotional, verbal (e.g. name calling), financial (e.g. taking money or property), sexual and spiritual. Some types of elder abuse involve violation of rights. Financial abuse is considered the most common form of abuse. Neglect can be part of abuse too. Neglect involves not doing something such as not providing the older person with food, shelter, medication or care.
Who are the Victims?
Abuse or neglect can happen to any older adult. In fact, contrary to commonly held beliefs, most older adults who experience abuse or neglect are mentally competent, are not dependent on other people, and do not require constant care. It can occur in any relationship, including one where there is an expectation of trust. Abuse or neglect can take place in the home, in residential care, or in the community.
Who are the Abusers?
Most often abuse of older adults occurs within the family, by a spouse, children and/or grandchildren. However, abusers can also include friends, neighbours, paid care providers, landlords and staff, or any individual in a position of power, trust, or authority?
How many Older Adults are affected by Abuse or Neglect?
Research on abuse of older adults is relatively new and limited in Canada and throughout the world. Abuse is often hidden or under-reported. In many cases, people many not recognize abuse and neglect of older adults when it is happening.
· Between 4 and 10% of older adults experience one or more forms of abuse or neglect at some point in their later years from someone they trust or rely on. Under-reporting and inconsistencies in collecting information on abuse suggest that these figures are “the tip of the iceberg”
· It is estimated that between 183,000 and 456,000 seniors in Canada are experiencing or have experienced abuse or neglect in later life
New York State Study (“Under the Radar” – NYS Elder Abuse Prevalence Study)
· 76 out of every 1,000 older New Yorkers is a victim of elder abuse in a one year period
· For every 24 older New Yorkers experiencing elder abuse, only 1 incident is reported to any authority such as law enforcement, social services or medical care
· The most common form of elder abuse, as self-reported by victims, is financial abuse
Did you know?
· Abuse is not limited to older adults of any particular culture, ethnic group, social background, or religion
· Spousal abuse can “grow old.” It can start earlier in a relationship and continue later into later life
· Older women are victims in about two-thirds of the cases of abuse or neglect that come to the attention of community agencies
Helps is available
· If you are being abused or know someone being abused call your local police or RCMP; contact a community group dealing with older adults issues
· Like in many forms of abuse, there are potential signs to look out for, older adults who are experiencing abuse or neglect may:
· Tell you they are being harmed
· Showing signs of depression or anxiety
· Seem fearful around certain people
· Become socially withdrawn
· Become passive and very compliant
· Have unexplained physical injuries
· Show changes in their nutrition or hygiene
· Suddenly unable to meet financial obligations
· Have unusual withdrawals from their bank or other financial institution