With the number of older persons around the world expected to skyrocket over the next 15 years, the United Nations is marking June 15 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to help spread the word about the vulnerable situations the elderly often find themselves in.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was first launched at the United Nations in 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization to give communities an opportunity to promote understanding of abuse and discuss a topic that’s frequently avoided.
“Elder abuse remains a taboo in many societies. It often happens inconspicuously and in many cases goes unnoticed, but we know that it occurs frequently and in all types of settings. No community or country in the world is immune,” Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, an expert on the human rights of older persons, said in a statement. “I condemn elder abuse wherever and whenever it happens, but I am particularly appalled that older persons are often at risk from members of their own family.”
The theme for this year’s events is “Understand and End Financial Abuse of Older People: A Human Rights Issue,” which focuses on issues surrounding financial exploitation associated with the elderly.
According to the available evidence, 5 to 10 percent of older people around the world may be susceptible to financial exploitation, which can take different forms in countries depending on the economic situation.
In places like the United States, it can manifest itself as theft or abuse of power of attorney. In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, some older women may be accused of witchcraft to kick them out of their homes.
A group of elder abuse experts met in June 2016 to discuss the problems and look at how the elderly are treated around the world.
“Over the last few years, studies have found financial abuse and exploitation of older people to be extremely prevalent and extremely harmful for older people,” said Dr. Karl Pillemer, a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine. “These studies have mostly been done in the United States, England, and other high income countries, but very little is known about how this problem plays out in low-income countries. Our goal was to bring together research internationally and comparatively to try to understand this problem.”
The studies were used to help shape the theme around this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Extent of the Abuse Among Elderly Remains Unclear
Not enough population surveys have been done to get a clear picture of just how many older persons are at risk of abuse. The taboo of the topic and the fact that the elderly are not always mentally capable of reporting abuse may indicate the numbers are larger than research suggests.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the elderly are also at risk of abuse in institutions like hospitals and nursing homes.
“In a survey in the United States, for example, 36 % of nursing-home staff reported having witnessed at least one incident of physical abuse of an elderly patient in the previous year, 10% admitted having committed at least one act of physical abuse themselves, and 40 % said that they had psychologically abused patients,” the WHO wrote in a fact sheet.
Research suggests that social isolation, along with cultural and socioeconomic factors, may increase the elderly’s risk of violence or mistreatment. The depiction of the elderly as frail and the movement of children into other areas can also contribute to the risk increase.
The number of people over 60 years old is projected to grow to about 1.2 billion by 2025, making the issue increasingly important to understand.