Elder Abuse is an area few of us want to consider as it is both disturbing and distressing.
How must it be then for the older person who falls victim?
People see elder abuse as a new phenomenon but unfortunately this is not the case.
The first conference in Ireland on Elder Abuse was held in Donegal in the 1990. This was organised by Social Workers and Health Care Workers keen to raise awareness of this invisible abuse, which in 95% of the cases is perpetrated by a family member or carer.
Abuse never comes singly. In the past five years where people are strapped for cash the older person can be seen as the ‘cash cow’. The older person is valued for the money that they bring in or for the security of the house that the older person owns but no longer has the capacity to run or manage.
In some cases over medicating is a way of keeping the older person ‘ quiet’, while under medicating is also used as a way of control, Older people are often on vital medicine to maintain their health or control their pain level, so it is a frightening and very vulnerable place to be when you realize that you are losing your independence and becoming dependent on someone else; you are literally at their mercy.
There is no doubt that having to care for someone on a 24 hour daily basis demands great patience. Constant lack of sleep can cause irritability and mood swings. The danger is always there that through time the older person can be seen as a nuisance; their value as a human being diminishes, there is no understanding or respect given to their lives before they became ‘that older person’. Name calling ‘ You prune, wrinkly…, You bitch …..Shut up, you silly old cow ……You cranky old fart’, and other such derogatory names are used on a continual basis resulting in the older person feeling worthless and unloved.
More women than men tend to suffer from elder abuse. This can be because, as we know, women live longer than men but also because women by their physique are not as strong. In some cases sexual abuse and even rape by a neighbour or relative has gone undetected. The older person is too afraid to say anything and no outside family member or caller suspects such atrocities are happening within their family, within their community.
In other cases there is ‘inter-generational abuse’. This is where the parent abused the child and now, with the change in power dynamics, the roles become reversed. In cases where there is an abuse of alcohol or drugs, inhibitions are lowered and the abuse can be more extensive and intense.
In all the various types and levels of abuse , power and control are wielded by the perpetrator over the older person. It can be financial, sexual, emotional, physical or psychological. Psychological abuse is the most common reported. Most of alleged victims of elder abuse are women, aged over 80, with the vast majority of abuse taking place in their own home. It is believed that due to the nature of elder abuse, the incidence is far greater than that reported or brought to the criminal courts with a successful prosecution. For a case to progress in the judicial system, it is the victim who must make the claim and follow through with the allegations.
Years ago there seemed to have been a greater respect for older people.
Today, and rightly so, there is a strong focus on the rights of children and ensuring services and supports for our youth, but what about the older person? Only 5% of older people are cared for in continuance care in Donegal . Yet 13.3 % of the population are over 65 years of age. We have over 2,500 people aged 85 or older, 64% are women and 36% are men(CSO 2011).
If, as the saying goes, it takes a village to rear a child, then surely it will take that same village to prevent elder abuse?