Age Action is urging the general public to play a greater role to help tackle the silent scourge of elder abuse in Ireland by becoming aware of the warning signs of abuse and knowing what to do if they suspect an older neighbour or friend is being abused.
“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,” Age Action spokesman Eamon Timmins said today, in an appeal to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2014 (June 15). “Greater public awareness of abuse and what to do if you suspect it is occurring, can be a key protection for older people. When it comes to elder abuse, doing nothing is not an option.”
There are substantial information resources which the public can use to inform and educate themselves about elder abuse, including the dedicated section of the HSE’s websitewww.hse.ie/eng/services/list/4/olderpeople/elderabuse/and the National Centre for the Protection of Older People’s website (www.ncpop.ie). A list of possible warning signs of elder abuse are listed at the end of this statement.
“Communities can also play a key role in helping prevent elder abuse occurring in the first place, by ensuring that older people maintain strong social bonds with other older people and the wider community.
“We have to work to ensure that the understandable public upset which reports of elder abuse create is used productively to reduce the amount of abuse that is occurring, and to help those who are suffering in silence,” Mr Timmins said.
Age Action welcomes the significant number of alleged elder abuse cases referred to the HSE’s dedicated elder abuse service since it was established seven years ago. This is an indication of growing awareness of an issue.
A total of 11,500 alleged elder abuse cases have been reported to the HSE service over the six years up to the end of 2012 – the 2013 figures are due to be published in the coming weeks. This is just the tip of the iceberg with widespread under reporting being a global feature of elder abuse. A 2010 report by the National Centre for the Protection of Older People found that 10,200 older people have been abused in the previous 12 months, and an estimated 18,700 had been abused since they turned 65.
Age Action is urging older people who are being abused to seek help by contacting their local GP or public health nurse or phoning the HSE’s information line at 1850 24 1850 (Monday to Saturday, 8am to 8pm) to get contact details for their local senior case worker for the protection of older people. Age Action’s information service operates from 9.30am to 5pm, Monday to Friday and can be contacted at 01-4756989.
Meanwhile, the national older people’s charity is urging the Irish Government to take an international stand against elder abuse by supporting moves to draft a UN Convention on the Rights of Older People. “Freedom from violence and abuse is one of the core rights under international human rights law,” Mr Timmins said. The creation of a Convention on the Rights of Older People, could if ratified, pave the way for specific legislation criminalising elder abuse in Ireland.
Age Action is working alongside older people’s groups around the world to support HelpAge International’s “Age Demands Action” campaign which is advocating for a UN Convention. For further details of the campaign in an Irish context see http://bit.ly/1hQOl2I
Elder abuse is defined as: “a single or repeated action, or lack of appropriate action, which occurs within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, and which causes harm or distress to an older person.” It can take several forms, including physical, financial, psychological, material or sexual. It can also take the form of passive or active neglect.
'Protecting our Future', the report of the Working Group on Elder Abuse, published in 2002, outlined the following possible indicators of elder abuse.
- Feelings of hopelessness / helplessness
- Disrupted appetite / sleeping pattern
- Excessive fears
- Unexplained paranoia
- Inappropriate clothing
- Poor hygiene
- Unkempt appearance
- Under/over medicated
- Unattended medical needs
- Exposure to danger / lack of supervision
- Absence of required aids, including reading glasses, dentures
- Pressure sores
- Unexplained or sudden inability to pay bills
- Unexplained or sudden withdrawal of money from accounts
- Funds diverted for someone else’s use
- Being charged for unsolicited work or significantly overcharged for work done
- Unexplained disappearance of possessions
- No funds for food, clothes, services
- Refusal to spend money
- Disparity between living conditions and assets
- Extraordinary interest by family member in person’s assets
- Making dramatic financial decisions
- Bruises or cuts, particularly to mouth, lips, gums, eyes, ears)
- Burns (inflicted by cigarettes, matches, rope, iron, immersion in hot water)
- Hair loss (possible hair-pulling)
- Missing teeth
- Eye injuries e.g. black eye
- Trauma about the genitals, breasts, rectum, mouth
- Injury to face, neck, chest, abdomen, thighs, buttocks
- Presence of sexually transmitted disease