World Elder Abuse Day was celebrated on 15 June as a way to increase the awareness of elder abuse and its prevention.
The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person”.
World Elder Abuse Day is commemorated on this day worldwide and aims to draw attention to the issues surrounding elder abuse. The United Nations General Assembly created the day of awareness as an opportunity for families and communities to understand and prevent the suffering of our elders. Activities are held around the world to raise awareness and encourage people to make a difference or speak up about their abuse. Abuse of elders includes financial, sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and many of these types co-exist. Unfortunately, the effort to prosecute those who are victims of this abuse is rare as the incidents of abuse of under-reported. World Elder Abuse Day aims to change this view.
World Elder Abuse Day: Types of Elder Abuse
World Elder Abuse Day aims to raise awareness about the many different categories of elder abuse. Emotional abuse includes one person being exposed to verbal assaults, threats of abuse, harassment, or intimidation. Sexual abuse includes mistreatment of a person in a sexual way and physical abuse includes the physical harm of one person inflicted by another. However, financial abuse is the most commonly seen form of abuse when in relation to elder abuse.
Financial abuse includes the illegal use of another person’s finances. There are many examples of financial abuse, including when someone gets close to the older person and manages to exclude other people such as family from the older person’s finances. They may try to blackmail the older person into excluding other people from the will and attempting to have money left for them. Attorneys may gain a hold of the older person’s finances with Power of Attorney documents and then proceed in misusing the person’s funds. Another example is when someone who cares for the older person and assists in their financial matters, but then begins to use the older person’s money for their own use.
World Elder Abuse Day is important because it’s a global problem.
Approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. Some estimates range as high as 5 million elders who are abused each year. One study estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.
In Australia, between 2% and 10% of older Australians experience elder abuse in any given year, and the prevalence of neglect is possibly higher. Financial abuse appears to be the most common form of abuse experienced by elderly people. Psychological abuse appears slightly less common than financial abuse, and seems to frequently co-occur with financial abuse.
Over 500,000 older people are abused in the UK each year. More than 23,000 allegations of abuse by home care workers against elderly and vulnerable people were made in the last three years, yet just 15 people were prosecuted as a result.
World Elder Abuse Day recognises that elder abuse occurs across many different cultures, races and socio-economic groups. In Australia, the problem is forecast to get worse. The problem of elder abuse is of increasing concern as in the coming decades unprecedented proportions of Australia’s populations will be older: in 2050, just over a fifth of the population is projected to be over 65 and those aged 85 and over are projected to represent about 5% of the population.
World Elder Abuse Day: Preventing Elder Abuse
World Elder Abuse Day also strives to raise awareness of how to prevent elder abuse occurring. Recommendations include:
- Remain in contact with the older person and ensure you have a relationship where issues can be freely discussed.
- Take all allegations seriously, even if you assume due to the person’s age they are misinterpreting a situation.
- Recognise changes in the older person’s actions or mood.
- Notice changes in the pattern of financial events, such as grocery shopping or ease in paying bills
World Elder Abuse Day begins the awareness of the prevalence of elder abuse by publicly bringing attention to the incidence and risk factors for elder abuse.
There are multiple ways to begin the fight against elder abuse, and obtaining legal advice is very important. If you know of someone who is experiencing elder abuse, seek legal advice immediately. Where financial abuse is occurring, it’s critical to stop the abuse before the financial losses become devastating. Once assets have been sold or used, there is usually no way to get these assets back.