Why The Elderly Are Not Safe
The World Health Organization in 2002 officially recognized elder abuse as a social problem. In 2016, the International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse have also declared World ElderAbuse Awareness Day’ to spread awareness about the ill-treatment towards elderlies.
A 2015 report lists India at 14 per cent, the lowest among Asian countries as compared to China reporting 36 per cent elder abuse. More than 50 per cent of India’s elderly suffer some form of abuse in silence and 77 per cent of them live with their families.
Welfare organizations for the elderly these days are of the opinion that the joint family system has been ruined by the rapid urbanization leading to the emergence of nuclear families, wherein, the warmth and the bond among family members has been eroded.
Different Kinds Of Elderly Abuse
With age, hearing and sight begin to fail, thus elders become easy targets for fraud and abuse. Mistreatment of elders at the hands of those whom they rely on, or trust, is termed as elder abuse. It could happen at home or in an institutional setting, by family, friends, neighbours, a care giver or a paid service provider. Also, elder abuse comes in a variety of ways and forms. It could be mental, emotional, physical, sexual or financial abuse, leading to neglect, abandonment, and exploitation.
This takes place when intentional force is used on the elderly, causing injury, pain, and impairment. Some elders suffer from lapses in memory, or some form of dementia, wherein they need to be supervised very closely, to avoid harm to themselves and others.
Emotional Or Psychological Abuse
This comprises of intimidation, yelling, threats, humiliation, and ridicule. Intentionally ignoring the presence of elders around you, also amounts to emotional abuse.
Social Isolation And Neglect
It could be intentional or unintentional, based on factors such as ignorance or denial, that an elderly needs the time, attention and care.
This ¡s prevalent where elders are helpless and at the mercy of caregivers for their activities of daily living and can be described as inappropriate contact with an elderly person without the elder’s consent.
Using elderly person’s property or funds by family members, caregivers, outsiders or scam operators, without their permission falls in this category. Unless meticulous accounts are maintained, misuse of elder’s finances, forging of signatures and identity theft is very common.
Exorbitant charges levied by unethical healthcare professionals, double billing or overcharging at pharmacies and hospitals and kickbacks for referrals, for various tests and diagnostic services constitutes healthcare fraud.
The National Network for the Prevention of Elderly Abuse (2008) has classified abuse into three broad categories:
- Depriving choices, respect, finances, status, and decision.
- Neglecting abandonment, social exclusion, and isolation.
- Violating medical, legal and human rights.
Legal Obligation Of The Children
Using abusive language and talking rudely to an elder constitutes 72.4 per cent of the elderly abuse, followed by 43.1 per cent by way of giving an elder the ‘silent treatment.’ The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007, helps in preventing the abuse of elderly, by creating legal obligation of the children to provide assistance and help to their elderly parents, like provision for residence, food, medical attendance, clothing, and treatment.
Also, a childless couple can demand income from their relatives for maintenance. However, Indian senior citizens remain unaware of this act and many bear it silently, rather than complain due to social stigma and fear of abandonment.
Action cannot be taken unless the aggrieved gives a written complaint and most elders fail to do so. However, maintenance tribuna’s have been set up to assist elders in filing their complaint and also issue notices to the children, conduct hearings, take evidence and order maintenance.
Helping To Empower The Elderly
Helplines across India are run by Foundations, Trusts, and NGOs in association with the city police. Highlighting the importance of sensitization, elder care foundations suggest that the children and the younger lot of our society are taught that love and respect for elders is something which is non-negotiable. For a country to progress, community ties need to be strengthened to prevent abuse and elders need to be empowered to fight back against violation of their basic human rights. Also, from a tender age, children should be taught to treat their elders as invaluable assets to their household, community, and society.