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2020 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: The impact of COVID-19 on violence, abuse and neglect of older persons

Published 15/06/2020

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(15 June) Around one in six older people face abuse worldwide in 2017 according to the United Nations. Despite this fact, elder abuse remains invisible. Emerging evidence is showing violence, abuse and neglect of older people has increased since the outbreak of COVID-19. We've also seen many cases reported in the media.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) is an opportunity to raise awareness of the problem and influence key people to stop it. Around one in six older people face abuse worldwide. Despite this fact, elder abuse remains invisible. Emerging evidence is showing violence, abuse and neglect of older people has increased since the outbreak of COVID-19. 

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is an opportunity to raise awareness of the problem and influence key people to stop it.

Elder Abuse and COVID-19

Although all age groups are at risk of contracting COVID-19, older persons are at a significantly higher risk of mortality and severe disease following infection, with those over 80 years old dying at five times the average rate. An estimated 66% of people aged 70 and over have at least one underlying condition, placing them at increased risk of severe impact from COVID-19.

Older persons may also face age discrimination in decisions on medical care, triage, and life-saving therapies. Global inequalities mean that, already pre-COVID-19, as many as half of older persons in some developing countries did not have access to essential health services. The pandemic may also lead to a scaling back of critical services unrelated to COVID-19, further increasing risks to the lives of older persons.

Some older people face additional vulnerabilities at this time. The virus is not just threatening the lives and safety of older persons, it is also threatening their social networks, their access to health services, their jobs and their pensions.

“No person, young or old, is expendable”, spelled out UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a video message to launch a policy brief on older persons last month. The impact on health and long-term care services for older persons must recognize and confront the particular challenges they face, including their ability to access medical treatment and care.

“Older people have the same rights to life and health as everyone else,” underscored the UN chief. “Difficult decisions around life-saving medical care must respect the human rights and dignity of all.”

Help Age International's Campaign to Raise Awareness of Elder Abuse

Think Ahead

As a member of the National Safeguarding Advisory Committee, Age Action supports Safeguarding Ireland’s call on World Elder Abuse Awareness day for a stronger focus on safeguarding during COVID-19. Safeguarding means living safely, free from abuse or neglect. It means our choices, particularly if we are vulnerable, are clearly heard and respected.

“The theme of World Elder Abuse Day 2020 is to ‘safeguard during and after COVID-19’. It may not always be possible to deliver on all of our wishes, but by being accessible our preferences can inform important health and care decisions, and this is an important part of safeguarding. If people have difficulty recording these decisions by themselves, a trusted person should assist,” Ms Rickard-Clarke, Chairperson of Safeguarding Ireland, said encouraging more people to act on the greater consideration which COVID-19 had caused – and to now follow through by documenting their wishes.

In research of 1,001 Irish adults carried out by RED C, just 4% of respondents said they had completed the Think Ahead form and 4% an Advance Healthcare Directive, and the levels were not significantly higher among older people. A further 6% said they were considering taking these steps prior to the pandemic.

However, 23% reported that as a result of COVID-19 they had been prompted to consider completing a Think Ahead form – and 14% to consider completing an Advance Healthcare Directive.

Chairperson Patricia Rickard-Clarke urged people to not only think about but also to document these important decisions – to write or type them and store carefully.

“Planning ahead ­– for if people became unable to make decisions or live independently in the future – helps people’s wishes to be respected and also safeguards against the risk of abuse. It is also better for families, loved ones and healthcare professionals.”

“Clear guidance on what to do is provided by the Think Ahead form at www.thinkahead.ie which has been developed to enable people to collate their important decisions in one document.”

Ms Rickard-Clarke encouraged more people to act on the greater consideration which COVID-19 had caused – and to now follow through by documenting their wishes.

Think Ahead, an initiative of the Irish Hospice Foundation is a record of personal information, emergency contacts, health insurance, culture preferences, religious beliefs, place of care wishes, organ donation wishes and financial information. It can also include an Advance Healthcare Directive which records preferences on treatment approaches, surgery, medicines and resuscitation. 

More information, including the RED C ‘Plan Ahead’ research, can be viewed at www.safeguardingireland.org.

If you are concerned about yourself or an older person contact the HSE National Safeguarding Office:

email safeguarding.socialcare@hse.ie or call 061 461165

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Age Action is calling for a Digital Allowance to support the Digital Inclusion of Older People and a Study on the Cost of Ageing in Budget 2021

(30 July 2020) 

Age Action, Ireland’s leading advocacy organisation on ageing and older people is calling for Budget 2021 to include a digital allowance in the form of a €2.50 increase to the Telephone Support Allowance and a broadening of the eligibility criteria to support older people to access digital technology.

Paddy Connolly, CEO Age Action said ‘Digital exclusion is a reality for at least 33% of people over the age of 65 with the associated cost being one of the barriers to access for older people. We know that communication costs have increased during COVID-19 as people became more reliant on digital communications as a means of communicating with family, health professionals, arranging essential services and addressing social isolation.  In the context of an increasing reliance on telehealth measures and public health advice, Age Action urges the Government to increase the Telephone Support Allowance, introduced in June 2018 at a weekly rate of €2.50, to €5 and for a broadening of the eligibility criteria which is narrowly confined to those getting the Living Alone Allowance who are also eligible for the Fuel Allowance.’

Government services now actively prefer transactions to be digital under a “Digital First”approach, encouraging people to carry out their tax returns, and apply to r enew their driving licences and passports online. The Public Service ICT Strategy prioritises the digitisation of ‘the main existing citizen and business transactional services across Public Services’. There is an increasing reliance on digital channels to provide information by both the public and private sector which undermines people’s ability to access information which was very evident during the height of the pandemic. In a recent CSO survey of households of those over 60 and not online, the second greatest challenge to people who said they needed access to broadband, after lack of digital skills, was the perceived prohibitive cost.

‘Older people are being left behind because they do not have adequate access or skills to engage with digital services or participate in the digital economy; providing a digital allowance as well as investing in one-to-one digital literacy training that meets the needs of older people, is critical to bridging the digital divide. The new National Digital Skills Strategy committed to under the Programme for Government will have budgetary implications; Budget 2021 should begin to support older people to keep up’ Connolly said.