Earlier this week the HSE reported that almost 8,000 cases of alleged adult abuse were reported in 2016. But only six per cent of these cases were reported by the alleged victim or a family member. Today, on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, we must face the reality that we're failing to speak out about elder abuse in Ireland.
Despite widespread public revulsion when cases of elder abuse are highlighted, the reality is that most people are not aware of elder abuse or the warning signs that it may be occurring in their community.
Since the HSE started recording and publishing figures in 2008 we have seen steady increases in the number of cases being reported. It is depressing to know that for thousands of people in Ireland growing old means becoming a victim of abuse.
Elder abuse can take many forms, from physical to psychological to financial, but what they all have in common is their effect - an older person whose dignity and rights have been undermined and abused.
Growing old should not mean living in fear. Older people should not be in a position where they are choosing to put up with abuse from a rogue carer or a neglectful family member because they are scared to lose those supports.
The campaign by the National Safeguarding Committee to raise awareness of elder abuse is very welcome but we need to do much more to educate people, to inform them how to report cases and to empower them to do so.
Financial elder abuse
Age Action was the first organisation in Ireland to make financial elder abuse a priority. We've worked in recent years to highlight the dangers of older people having their pension money or savings stolen, or being pressured to co-sign loans or change their wills.
It is those who are abusing older people, taking their money and their savings, who are responsible for elder abuse. But we need to find ways of helping older people to avoid becoming victims and encouraging frontline staff in banks and other financial institutions to act if they suspect elder abuse.
Of almost 500 Ulster Bank staff we surveyed two years ago almost half, 45 per cent, had dealt with suspected elder financial abuse cases, almost all of whom had dealt with at least one case in the previous 12 months.
With banks increasingly closing branches, restricting their services of forcing customers to use unfamiliar technology to access their savings, we're worried that the ability of bank staff to protect customers will be eroded in the future.
Help Age Action end elder abuse
Age Action is currently running two campaigns to end elder abuse in Ireland.
Last year the charity launched a new animated video to warn older people and their families of the dangers of financial elder abuse and has distributed more than 20,000 information leaflets to community centres and retirement groups around Ireland.
You can help us by sharing the video on your social media accounts and if you would be interested in getting ordering some of those leaflets for yourself or a group in your local community please do get in touch.
As part of an EU ERASMUS funded programme Age Action is also working with partners in Finland, Romania and Italy to tackle elder abuse in residential care centres through socio-drama workshops for residents and staff.
This innovative progamme helps people working in residential centres to better understand how what they say and do affects the people they are looking after. It also empowers nursing home residents to stand up for their human rights.
If you believe that you, or someone you know, may be the victim of elder abuse refuse to be silent. Contact the HSE at 1850 24 1850.