Today I Learned...

  • Elder abuse is a critical issue highlighted by the United Nations with June 15 designated as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD).
  • According to WHO, elder abuse includes any harmful or distressing act or lack of appropriate action within a trust-based relationship.
  • By 2050, senior citizens will constitute a significant portion of the population, with one in every five Indians being above the age of 60.
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    erhaps one of the least talked about but most important awareness campaigns from the United Nations is that on Elder Abuse Awareness. The United Nations designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD).  WHO defines elder abuse as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.”

    Senior citizens are the fastest-growing demographic around the world and by 2050, it is expected that every fifth Indian will be above the age of 60. Over the past few years, HelpAge India has been conducting surveys to understand the growing crime of elder abuse against India’s elders. In 2014, half of the surveyed Indian elders (50 percent) reported experiencing abuse and 77 percent of them lived with their families.

    Many people speak about the abuse of children and women, yet unfortunately, there are a lot fewer active voices advocating for the rights of elders. Perhaps one of the greatest reasons is that this type of abuse can be hard to spot as it is often committed by family members or caregivers on adults who may have diminished cognitive or mobility issues allowing them access to a broad community. However, elder care laws and elder abuse penalties are of utmost importance to assure that our elders are protected.

    Every day citizens must step up to recognize the signs and speak up for someone who may not be able to speak up for themselves.

    How to recognize elder abuse

    Elder abuse comes in a variety of both intentional and unintentional forms related to neglect and systematic abuse or abuse around financial, physical, psychological, and sexual care.

    The National Centre on Elder Abuse cites the three most prominent forms of elder abuse as physical, financial, and emotional. Many elder abuse cases take place in their homes where elders are expected to feel secure and protected yet their abuse often goes unreported and abusers go unpunished.

    Elder abuse whether from a resident of a senior care home or from an elderly person living with family are often first noticed by a change in the person’s mental, physical, or financial attitudes and behaviors.

    There is no one specific way to recognize elder abuse but some signs may include:

    • Weight loss or malnutrition
    • Dehydration
    • Poor hygiene
    • Hesitating to talk freely or making up irrational stories
    • Anxiety, depression, fear, or confusion
    • Injuries such as bruises, cuts, burns, or broken bones
    • Unexplained loss of money, excessive gift-giving, or inability to access finances
    • Withdrawal from friends and family members
    • Bedsores or ulcers
    • Missing medical aids such as walkers, dentures, glasses, or hearing aids
    • Missing medication
    • Unclean or unsafe living conditions

    While elder abuse can happen to any older adult, certain factors put some older adults at higher risk than others. Usually, those most at risk are over the age of 80 and female according to research by Northwestern University and WHO. Those who are isolated, in poor health, or cared for by a live-in caregiver who depends on them financially may also have a greater risk for abuse.

    How can elder abuse be prevented?

    Education is critical to preventing elder abuse. Older adults, family, friends, professionals, caregivers, and the public need to know the signs and what to do. Plus people can take active steps to help themselves prevent elder abuse from happening.

    The healthier older adults stay through both mental and physical exercise the less likely they are to not be able to stand up for themselves. Next, it’s essential to plan one’s aging process that includes items like a living will or power of attorney to someone you trust to follow health care decisions, so family members aren’t fighting over it in the end. It is also important to seek support when you need it whether that is a therapist if depression hits or legal advice on wills. Then older adults should continue to stay active in the community and connected to a variety of people so they have a support system that they can always access.

    Never ignore signs of elder abuse, if you think you spot it speak up!

    Your parents, grandparents, and other elderly relatives do not deserve to suffer. If you suspect your loved one is in danger, report it to one of the helplines created to help with elder abuse like the Senior Citizens National Helpline, Government of India Toll-Free Number (14567) or HelpAge India National Helpline (18001801253) or Police Number (100).

    June 14, 2024