By Sanah Thakur
A growing concern in today’s world is the abuse of the elder and it is a major issue especially in the United States. The older generation has become more active and independent with every passing year and today a larger percentage of older people live longer and in better health. However, even though an improvement can be seen in the state of older people today, the concealed issue of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation has become a pervasive problem which is often neglected.
Elder abuse can be defined as an intentional, negligent or knowing act by a caregiver or any other person that causes either harm or a considerable risk of harm to a vulnerable human being. The word ‘vulnerable’ can be interpreted as all those older individuals who are lonely, depressed, and weak as well as those who have a mental or physical disease. Half of all reported cases are due to neglect which involves the failure or refusal to fulfill one’s obligations as a caretaker to the elder. Abandonment is an extreme type of abuse where the caregiver leaves an elder alone and stops providing care.
There is no one explanation for elder abuse as it is a complex problem and can stem from a multitude of factors like family and caregiving stressors and societal and cultural issues.
The family of an elder person plays a very vital role in his or her life and ensures a healthy lifestyle for him or her. The problem of adjusting to a new lifestyle or accommodating in a multigenerational household is a common family stressor. Elder people generally have limited physical and cognitive skills in relation to the other generations in the family and this may cause stress which would lead to abuse. The stress can also be triggered by financial burdens of multigenerational households, especially when the adult child has no financial resources except those of his/her parents. Social isolation within a family can also be seen as a risk factor for elder abuse. Social isolation can be seen as a strategy and a consequence; as a strategy it can used to keep the abuse a secret and as a consequence it makes dealing with the stresses of taking care of a loved elder person difficult. By isolating oneself from everyone outside the family, the adult child is blocking out all support and help from friends and concerned others. Sometimes a family isn’t able to cope up when the needs of the older adult increase beyond the help they typically provide. In such a case, the family members will unintentionally fail to provide proper care and support which will later turn into unintentional neglect or abuse.
The nature of the relationship between the caregiver and the older adult is the basis of effective caregiving and support. The act of caregiving however is a difficult and taxing task which requires a lot of sacrifices. Sometimes the caregiving creates stresses that affect both the caregiver and the older adult. These stresses lead to potentially dangerous behaviour which may leave the adult at risk. To be an effective caregiver one needs to know how to balance the needs of the elder person with their own needs and when this balance isn’t maintained it can lead to stress which in turn triggers abuse. Dependency, mostly financially can prove to be a contributing factor to abuse. For example, a caregiver who is financially dependent on the older person may exploit him/her. Generally when a caregiver feels there is no escape from the stress he/she experiences, abuse may occur.
Societal attitudes play an important role in shaping the image of an older person and the relationship the caregiver has with that person. Older people are often regarded as insignificant and therefore many people fail to understand the importance of providing a nonabusive and supportive environment for the old person. Certain cultural value and beliefs may also influence the way a family functions, intergenerational relationships, and how people define their roles and responsibilities. Some people may face language barriers, financial or emotional dependence or even might be embarrassed to reveal or report abuse. While defining abuse, there are differences across cultures, religions, and ethnic groups.
Since many cases of elder abuse go unreported one would expect a lack of public concern for this issue which is not the case. Elder abuse exists in both developed and developing countries and with the number of elder people increasing year by year, elder abuse is becoming a more significant problem. By 2050 seniors will outnumber the children in the world, which increases the risk for elder abuse.
Providing support to the victim is one of the major ways in which elder abuse can be dealt with. The confidence of a victim needs to increase and this can be done by ensuring the victim that he/she has enough resources to tackle the problem. Awareness about the existence of old age homes, NGOs and helplines should increase so that the elder people are more aware of them.
The number of social services for the ageing should increase so that victims are provided with legal, psychological, medical and financial help. This can only be done if the government passes more laws that sanction funds for the development of social services for the aged. With the help of public education and awareness campaigns, the elder people along with the youth of the country should raise awareness about elder abuse as a social problem.
Another important aspect that needs to be given attention is the societal attitudes that influence the way families live and the intergenerational relationships. Children shouldn’t assume that taking care of their parents is solely their job. They should be more open to the idea of old age homes, residential care facilities etc. so that they don’t impose the burden of caregiving on themselves. With increased awareness of such facilities and social services, people will start accepting them and the burden on the families will reduce.
With an expected rise in the population of older people in the world, there is a considerable public concern for this social issue, but no considerable action by the people. Abuse takes place, people are aware but, in most cases, neither the victim nor the observer says or does anything. Elder abuse has all the characteristics of a social issue but it is still neglected in most developing countries; this needs to change and soon.
The author can be contacted on Instagram @sincerelysanah
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