Elder Abuse: Ways to prevent emotional and physical threat to senior citizens

On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, a senior healthcare professional discusses the need to care for senior citizens and protect them from emotional and physical abuse.
Elder Abuse
Care for your elders, don't abuse them! Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Dr Reema Nadig Updated: 15 Jun 2023, 20:50 pm IST
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The World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 serves as a stark reminder of the pressing issue faced by our elderly population. Elder abuse, in its various forms, poses a significant threat to the well-being and dignity of senior citizens around the world. The World Health Organization projected that between 2015 and 2050, the population over 60 years of age will be 22 percent, and that by 2030, 1 in 6 people will be over 60. There is an urgent need to not just install specialized infrastructure, but also to address the growing cases of elder abuse around the world.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse encompasses a range of harmful behaviors directed towards older adults. According to the Longitudinal Ageing Study in India (LASI), at least five per cent of India’s elderly population (aged 60 years and above) experienced ill treatment in 2020. This statistic underscores the gravity of the issue and the urgent need to address it.

Elder abuse manifests in multiple forms, including physical, sexual, emotional/psychological, financial and neglect.

Elderly care
Pay attention to elders at home. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

The reality of elder abuse in India

India has gained the reputation of having one of the worst records of elder abuse in Asia, despite having a strict law against it for the past 15 years. Surveys indicate that an alarming percentage, approximately 71 per cent, of senior citizens in India are subjected to various forms of abuse, humiliation, and exploitation by their family members, relatives or children, as revealed by a survey conducted by the Agewell Foundation.

India faces multiple challenges when it comes to elder care. Delayed hospitalizations and denied medical care are common issues that older adults encounter. Due to various reasons such as financial constraints, lack of awareness, or neglect, seniors often do not receive timely medical attention, which can exacerbate their health conditions and lead to avoidable complications.

It is crucial to emphasize the importance of prompt medical care for older adults and ensure that their healthcare needs are not overlooked or ignored.

Caregiving for senior citizens

The responsibility of caregiving often falls on the children of elderly parents. However, in many cases, children may not be proactive in taking care of their ageing parents due to various factors such as their own busy lives, lack of awareness about the needs of older adults, or even elder abuse within the family by other family members. It is essential to foster a culture of empathy and responsibility among younger generations, emphasizing the importance of providing adequate care, support, and attention to the elderly.

Also read: Importance of mental health of caregivers for elderly people

In India, the fading away of the traditional joint family and the rise of nuclear families have impacted seniors’ lives in many ways. The traditional joint family system provided a support network and a sense of security for the elderly. However, with the changing dynamics and modernization of society, nuclear families have become more prevalent, often leaving older adults vulnerable, isolated and anxious (how to treat anxiety in elders). This shift in family structure has contributed to the increase in elder abuse cases, as the support system that once existed has weakened.

Lack of awareness of geriatric care

Another significant issue contributing to elder abuse and inadequate care is the lack of awareness about geriatric care. Many individuals, including medical practitioners, and families may not have sufficient knowledge or understanding of the specific needs and challenges faced by older adults. This lack of awareness can lead to unintentional neglect and is tantamount to abuse.

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It is essential to educate the general public, healthcare professionals, and caregivers about geriatric care, emphasizing the importance of specialized attention, physical and emotional support, and the creation of age-friendly environments.

Delaying proper elder care can have severe consequences, including a painful demise for older adults. Neglecting their physical, emotional, and medical needs may lead them to suffer in silence. By addressing elder abuse and promoting timely and compassionate care, we can ensure that our seniors receive the dignity and respect they deserve in their later years.

Also read: Is the mental health of the elderly at home giving you sleepless nights? Time to keep these tips handy

Fitness for elderly
Encourage elders to do yoga for well-being. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

How to prevent elder abuse?

Raising awareness about elder abuse is crucial to its prevention.

1. Community effort

Individuals, communities, and organizations need to unite in addressing this grave issue.

2. Education and awareness

Caregivers, healthcare professionals, and the general public must be educated about the signs of elder abuse and the necessary steps to report and prevent it. By fostering a culture of vigilance and empathy, we can create a society that values and respects its elderly population.

3. Stricter policies and laws

Collaboration between government agencies, law enforcement, and social service organizations is vital. Strict policies and laws should be enforced to protect the rights of older adults and ensure their safety.

4. Training programs for caregivers

There is a need for specialized training programs for caregivers and healthcare professionals to enhance their ability to identify and address cases of elder abuse.

5. Empower senior citizens

Community support networks should be established to provide older adults with resources, counseling and legal assistance. Furthermore, empowering older individuals and providing them with resources and support can help promote their dignity and overall well-being. Intergenerational programs and initiatives should be encouraged to bridge the gap between generations, fostering understanding, respect, and mutual support.

How to treat elders
Laugh a little with elders at home. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Care for elders

Caring for elders begins in our homes and our neighbourhoods. We also need to be mindful of the fact that not providing the right care at the right time to our elders is a form of abuse. Ignoring early signs and symptoms of conditions that need medical attention and care is also abuse! Elder abuse remains a critical concern that demands our immediate attention. However, there is hope in the form of the burgeoning geriatric market and the support mechanisms in place.

By prioritizing the needs of older adults and fostering a society that values and respects its seniors, we can create an environment where every older adult receives the care, dignity, and support they deserve.

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About the Author

Dr Reema Nadig, an experienced healthcare management professional, is a physician. She is pursuing her passion of creating a care delivery system for the seniors. Currently, she is the co-founder of KITES Senior Care. ...Read More

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