For many elderly people throughout Europe this won’t be a merry Christmas. In Portugal, according to data from hospitals of the Oporto Metropolitan Area, 101 elderly people were abandoned in 2012. This figure was collected by three hospitals only. Just imagine how many old persons are left on their own in the whole country. And now multiply this number by the 27 member states of the European Union.
According to the WHO, elder abuse exists both in developed and developing countries and is underreported globally. Many conditions make it hard for researchers to obtain accurate statistics because it is a taboo issue. Elder abuse tends to be committed by family members in privacy, so it is difficult to measure. Also, many victims don’t report abuse for fear of the consequences this might bear or because their ill health doesn’t allow them to do so.
In Portugal, abandoning elder people at hospitals during the festive season is a common and recurring problem. “The economic crisis is just an excuse. The reasons for the abandon seem to change constantly, but they don’t weaken the fact that this is a case of abuse”, says Joao Lázaro, vice-president of APAV, the Portuguese association of victim support, in an interview in Jornal de Notícias. The Portuguese blog Lar de Idosos criticizes that “contemporary society is dedicated to consumption, governed more by material values, has its impact on families, especially in the elderly group.”
The WHO defines Elder abuse by “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.” This type of violence clearly constitutes a violation of human rights. Elder abuse prevents older people from living a life of dignity and often even of interacting socially.
A recent study by the European Reference Framework Online for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and Neglect (EuROPEAN) states that “in all participating member states there is, at least to some degree, a negative image of aging which … has created a climate that allows elder abuse to occur”.
“In our culture older people are often perceived as people who tend to nag a lot and not able to provide a useful contribution to society”, says a Dutch project leader in the EuROPEAN study. “One can cast more doubts on elderly people and violence: e.g. ‘perhaps an older person has used violence and now it comes back as a boomerang and they ‘get what they deserve’”, observes another Dutch respondent in the same paper.
It is predicted that by 2025 the global population of people aged 60 years and older will be of about 1.2 billion persons, which makes elder abuse a huge public health problem.
But is certainly, first of all, a moral problem. Let’s think about this during this holiday season.
Author: Josephine Landertinger Forero