World Elder Abuse Awareness Day occurs on 15th June each year and is recognised as a United Nations Day by the General Assembly. The WHO estimates that 1 in 6 people over 60 years of age suffers from abuse which equates to nearly 141 million people globally. Elder abuse and neglect are one of the most underrepresented and underreported violations of human rights so it can be assumed that the real figure is much higher.
What is Elder Abuse?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines “elder abuse” or “abuse of older people” as a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action occurring within any relationship in which there is expectation of trust that causes harm or distress to an older person.
The UN Decade of Health Ageing (2021-2030) was brought about in response to growing reports of elder abuse across the world. The publication “Tackling abuse of older people: five priorities for the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021–2030)” which was released in 2022 outlines 5 key concerns in addressing Elder Abuse:
- Combatting ageism as it is a major reason why the abuse of older people receives so little attention.
- Generating more and better-quality data to raise awareness of the problem.
- Development and scaling up cost–effective solutions to stop abuse of older people.
- Make an investment case focusing on how addressing the problem is money well spent.
- Raise funds as more resources are needed to tackle the problem.
How prevalent is Elder Abuse in Ireland?
From 2018 – 2022, almost 16,000 cases of elder abuse have been reported within HSE funded services for older people. The number of abuse concerns relating to over-65s increased from 3,029 in 2016 to a peak of 3,412 in 2020, the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. The most common type of abuse reported in 2020 which accounted for 35% of reports involved psychological abuse which can include coercive control, followed by physical abuse (23%), financial abuse (19%), neglect (15%) and self-neglect (4%).
The HSE National Safeguarding Office Survey conducted last year found that 44% of adults said that they personally had experienced abuse. Yet of those who had experienced abuse; 41% said they did nothing at all about it, and half of these said they took no action because they did not know what to do. Women are also substantially more likely than men to have experienced emotional, psychological, physical and sexual abuse.
In addition, the narrow definition of coercive control has serous impacts for older people. Our current laws only recognise coercive control as an identifiable crime in the setting of an intimate relationship between a couple. The definition of coercive control should be expanded to include the coercive control of another person as a crime in any close adult relationship. This is particularly important for vulnerable or older adults.
Global View of Elder Abuse:
As the global population of people aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 900 million in 2015 to about 2 billion in 2050, the abuse of older people is also predicted to increase as many countries are experiencing rapidly ageing populations.
What can we do?
This year the National Safeguarding Office will be marking this day with a number of key events including co-hosting a conference in Trinity College Dublin. The theme for 2023 is ‘Hear Me, Support Me, Challenge Elder Abuse” which is a call to action to address elder abuse in a way that respects the autonomy and empowerment of older people in Ireland, whilst being in line with the human rights principles the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) legislation.
Ahead of the milestone of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the month of June will focus on showcasing the UDHR by raising awareness on its legacy, relevance and activism as relates to women’s rights. The theme of the 2023 WEAAD is entitled Closing the Circle: Addressing Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Older Age – Policy, Law and Evidence-based Responses.
If you suspect someone you know may be a victim of abuse, or if you are a victim of abuse yourself, you should contact your local health centre, your GP, public health nurse or the Garda Síochana. You can also contact the HSE Information Line on 1850 24 1850.