The UN’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (June 15) offers an opportunity to elevate a topic that unfortunately, will increase in prevalence if not given appropriate attention and support. Elder abuse has been a hidden issue over time, but as populations age, increased recognition is needed to help protect the resources, lifestyles and dignity of older people. In this edition of The Journal, we focus on the need for greater protection from various forms of abuse and highlight some examples designed to support the security of older people.
Global demographic trends reveal that older persons (60 and over) will outnumber children (15 and younger) by 2050, and as the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has stated “these older persons are often subjected to abuse, discrimination, neglect, exclusion and other violations of human rights.” Older persons have unique vulnerabilities and as the incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease rises, people need protection from physical, mental and financial abuse. Elder abuse occurs in all regions of the world and increased awareness, with corresponding government laws and strategies and focus in all sectors, is needed.
Headlining this edition, AARP International is honored to feature an article by Kathy Greenlee, the Assistant Secretary for Aging in the United States, who summarizes the issue - “financial exploitation is a multi-dimensional problem that requires simultaneous consideration of personal, relationships, environmental and societal causes.” One issue limiting support is the lack of available data on elder abuse. The Centers for Disease Control reports that over 500,000 older adults are abused or neglected each year, but this number masks the myriad number of cases that go unreported. More information is needed to support adult protective services, in order to develop something similar to the national infrastructure for child protective services. But culture change is also needed to counter elder abuse.
At this year’s International Federation on Ageing Global Conference in Hyderabad, India, a thread on the topic of elder abuse ran throughout the event to acknowledge World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Representatives from around the world gave voice to this topic, presenting on some of the structural causes of abuse, such as societal norms; health, legal, financial, and social exclusion; poverty; and the marginalization of older women. Presenters included Dr. Patricia Brownell and Susan Somers, who in an article in this edition, discuss how older women experience higher rates of poverty, face greater social exclusions, and while relied upon to provide unpaid caregiving within the family, are less likely to receive support in old age.
But we are seeing examples from civil society and the market to address these issues. Sam Mauger, the Chief Executive of Age UK London, reports how her organization has developed a business directory of vetted product and service providers for older people in London. Christine Marking, of Marking Public Affairs, shares the story of ALMA, a network of helplines supporting victims of elder abuse. And finally, Christoph Nedopil, the founder of YOUSE and AARP’s Bradley Schurman preview their report examining and highlighting examples the private sector is employing to offer age-friendly banking services.
For this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has stated that “Elderly people in all societies can be vulnerable to physical, psychological and financial abuse. Older women are at particular risk due to widespread discriminatory attitudes and practices.” We need to ensure that this message continues throughout the year.