The global population of people aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 542 million in 1995 to about 1.2 billion in 2025. Around 4 to 6% of elderly people have experienced some form of maltreatment at home. Elder maltreatment can lead to serious physical injuries and long-term psychological consequences.
The incidence of abuse towards older people is predicted to increase as many countries are experiencing rapidly ageing populations.
Elder abuse is a global social issue which affects the health and human rights of millions of older persons around the world, and an issue which deserves the attention of the international community.
The United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 66/127, designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It represents the one day in the year when the whole world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted to some of our older generations.
Secretary-General’s Message for 2013
Around the world, older persons are tragically subject to psychological, financial or physical abuse.
Unfortunately, too many older persons can be at risk.
Prejudicial attitudes contribute to the problem. Today, let us re-examine our attitudes towards ageing and the status and role of older persons.
I urge Governments, civil society, and communities to raise awareness about this challenge. Governments, in particular, can help by enacting legislation to protect the abused and prosecute the abuser.
We owe it to older persons and societies at large to fight ageism in all its forms and enhance the dignity and human rights of older persons everywhere.
A Violation of Older People’s Human Rights
Elder abuse can be defined 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”. Elder abuse can take various forms such as physical, psychological or emotional, sexual and financial abuse. It can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect.
In many parts of the world elder abuse occurs with little recognition or response. Until recently, this serious social problem was hidden from the public view and considered mostly a private matter. Even today, elder abuse continues to be a taboo, mostly underestimated and ignored by societies across the world. Evidence is accumulating, however, to indicate that elder abuse is an important public health and societal problem.
Addressing Elder Abuse
Elder abuse is a problem that exists in both developing and developed countries yet is typically underreported globally. Prevalence rates or estimates exist only in selected developed countries — ranging from 1% to 10%. Although the extent of elder mistreatment is unknown, its social and moral significance is obvious. As such, it demands a global multifaceted response, one which focuses on protecting the rights of older persons.
Approaches to define, detect and address elder abuse need to be placed within a cultural context and considered along side culturally specific risk factors. For example, in some traditional societies, older widows are subjected to forced marriages while in others, isolated older women are accused of witchcraft.
From a health and social perspectives, unless both primary health care and social service sectors are well equipped to identify and deal with the problem, elder abuse will continue to be underdiagnosed and overlooked.