June 6, 2013
According to the United Nations, the global population of people 60 years of age and older will more than double between 1992 and 2025 - from 542 million to 1.2 billion.
Consequently, the number of people suffering from age-related conditions will also increase dramatically. And while some of these conditions can be successfully treated, others will require long-term assistance and care.
And this itself presents a problem, as that assistance and care is sometimes lacking - in fact, some seniors who need help receive exactly the opposite.
We're talking here about elder abuse - a problem the world has been slow to recognize, but which, fortunately, is now receiving more attention, with the UN's World Elder Abuse Awareness Day being observed on June 15.
According to the federal Ministry of State for Seniors, elder abuse "is any action by someone in a relationship of trust that results in harm or distress to an older person." And while abuse is typically intentional, older people can also be subject to neglect, which may be intentional or unintentional.
The invisibility of elder abuse is particularly troubling given how prevalent the problem is: Although statistics are hard to come by, according to the BC Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support, eight per cent, or 61,000 seniors in B.C., experience abuse.
One reason for this prevalence is that abuse exists in many forms. The abuse can be physical, psychological or emotional, sexual, related to the over-or under-prescription or withholding of medication, involve a violation of civil or human rights, or financial. In fact, financial abuse, which involves misuse of a senior's funds and assets, is believed to be the most common form of elder abuse.
Another reason for the prevalence of abuse is that it can be committed by virtually anyone, from family members and friends to formal and informal caregivers. Yet it still remains somewhat invisible, in many cases because the victims are embarrassed to reveal the abuse or because they fear retaliation or loss of services they need.
Others don't necessarily realize they're being abused or neglected, and some have difficulty seeking help because of language or cultural barriers or disabilities. And family members who suspect abuse are sometimes worried about making the situation worse if they become involved.
Nonetheless, it's important to address the problem when it occurs because it can lead to psychological and emotional injuries, up to and including death. And the B.C. Ministry of Justice points out that many laws exist to protect seniors from abuse, including the Criminal Code, B.C. victims' legislation and B.C.'s Adult Guardian legislation.
Most seniors do, of course, need help in protecting their rights and health, and fortunately that help does exist. If family and friends are unable or unwilling to help, seniors can call the police, or seek the assistance of victim service programs, the Public Guardian and Trustee (which investigates reports of financial abuse), and designated agencies under the Adult Guardianship Act, including regional health authorities, Providence Health Care Society and Community Living BC.
For more information on elder abuse, as well as assistance, visit the BC Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support at bcceas.ca or call its Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL) at 604-4371940 or 1-866-437-1940 (toll free).
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