Elder abuse has long been tabooed, hushed, and even outright ignored. Sadly, it is one of the least investigated types of violence despite its prevalence – not just in the United States, but all over the world. As unpleasant as it may be to imagine how violence or abusive behavior toward such one of society’s most vulnerable demographics could be possible, facing the issue head-on is the only way change will happen.
Sponsored by the United Nations (UN, June is dedicated to raising awareness of elder abuse and protecting the human rights of our older fellow citizens. Today is the day this all comes to a head, and presents a prime opportunity for change, through World Elder Abuse Prevention Day.
World Elder Abuse Prevention Day (also known as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day) is held on June 15 each year. Established by the UN in 2012, the aim of this awareness day is to draw global attention to elder abuse.
WEAP is part of the larger, month-long campaign, Elder Abuse Awareness Month, and an opportunity to convene with others passionate about the cause. June 15 is often the day that participants organize events, conferences, and rallies in efforts to educate people about elder abuse and new ideas for prevention.
Although the campaign is global in scale, the UN encourages local and regional events to allow as many people as possible to contribute. Discussions cover the different forms abuse may take and how to respond to each.
This year, financial abuse and material exploitation – such as abusing a Power of Attorney, stealing ATM cards, or even keeping change from the victim’s shopping – are topics of focus. Financial abuse is suffered by an estimated 5 to 10 percent of older people, but severely underreported. The UN’s aim will be to explore ways to protect against financial exploitation, stop victimization, and grow understanding of this form of abuse.
Why Is Awareness and Prevention So Important?
The global population of people over 60 is growing fast, and simultaneously, the rate of abusive behavior to which they are susceptible. Today, around 5 percent of the world’s elderly suffer some form of abuse. By 2050, this population is expected to more than double. The question is: will the number of perpetrators?
Some elders face more risks of abuse than others in their given circumstances. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the behaviors and risk factors associated with perpetrators also warrant consideration. These could be unknown to the victim, but much more commonly family, friends, or caregivers.
For example, elders might be a risk of abuse due to isolation or declining physical and cognitive health which, through no fault of their own, makes abuse more likely. On the other hand, perpetrators themselves share common characteristics that increase risk. These include:
- Substance abuse: Use of drugs or alcohol would make someone far more likely to abuse their duty of care and act unlawfully.
- History of violence: Perpetrators from abusive families are more likely to be abusive themselves.
- Financial dependence on elder: If the perpetrator relies on the victim for money – or worse, has control over it – they are in a position for financial exploitation.
- Stress at work: Care facilities, particularly, are stressful, demanding environments for caregivers. Frustration at this may end up directed at patients.
One way we can all support the prevention of elder abuse is by looking out for these warning signs. Family members, especially, of elderly citizens cared for at home or in long-term care facilities have the power to raise alarm bells if anything seems amiss.
1 Step at a Time
Since elder abuse is a largely misunderstood and de-emphasized problem in all countries, World Elder Abuse Prevention Day is a very important effort to spark significant change.
Of course, the campaign’s job is to get the ball rolling in preventing future occurrences of elder abuse. But in order to put a true end to this epidemic, this campaign needs the support of every member of the public, however big or small. If all communities across the globe could put concerted energy into focusing more attention on elder and nursing home abuse, the possibilities could be groundbreaking.