ELDER ABUSE IN IRELAND IN THE 21ST CENTURY
Photo by Jeremy Wong on Unsplash
We believe that we are a civilised people living in an enlightened age. Why then are the statistics for elder abuse so high?
The Health Service Executive has adopted the following definition for Elder Abuse:
‘’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 or violates their human and civil rights.’’
While this definition focuses on acts of abuse by individuals, abuse also arises in a more general way from inadequacy of care or inappropriate programmes of care in private homes, residential care settings and other institutions where the elderly may be dependent on care staff.
Who are the abusers?
In the 2010 report of Elder Abuse and Neglect in Ireland compiled by the National Centre for the Protection of Older people, UCD, it says of abuse occurring in the community, that 50% of abusers are the children of the elderly, 24% are other relatives, 20% are spouses, 4% are friends and 2% are home helps. (remember this report was written in 2009)
Where does the abuse occur?
According to HSE Elder Abuse Services 2010 Open Your Eyes 84% of abuse occurs in the persons own home, 4% in the home of a relative, 6% in Private Nursing Homes 4% in Public Continuing Care and 2% by others.
Why do people abuse older people?
There are different types of abuse and different reasons why abuse occurs. Financial abuse may be deliberate or caused by a sense of entitlement or greed; psychological and physical abuse and neglect may also be deliberate or gradually build up due to the carers frustration and a sense of being dumped upon; sexual abuse can only be for the perpetrator’s self-gratification.
The family carer
More often than not it is the female who will take on the care of an elderly relative without thinking things through and without a family conference. This person, new to the caring relationship, will have unspoken expectations of help from other family members. If a parent is the one in need of care the male members of the family are very likely to see the caring role as the responsibility of the female. Initially the daughter may give up her job or go part time in order to fulfil the caring role. A few months on she will have noticed that other family members are keeping their distance; she is tired and beginning to realise that the role is much more difficult and all time consuming and she is becoming short tempered. Initially she will feel extremely guilty for shouting at the older person and then she might graduate to pushing and slapping. She might see no solution other than to lock the older person in a room while she goes out for hours at a time and so the downward spiral goes.
This family carer needs help; she needs support and the listening ear of someone who understands her predicament. This is often where the Health Care Assistant can be of enormous support. Contact the Public Health Nurse who may call a family conference, utilise the services of the HSE which may be available to this family, organise respite, day centres etc. The Healthcare assistant should not challenge the abuser but should listen carefully if the older person is willing to talk. Make no promises, simply report what you have been told and what you observe.
Have you come across elder abuse in your work and what did you do about it? Let us know on firstname.lastname@example.org
An HSE report on elder abuse: 2009. Open Your Eyes https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/publications/olderpeople/openyoureyes.pdf
Age Action Ireland report on Elder Abuse 2017. https://www.ageaction.ie/news/2017/06/12/new-report-reveals-rising-levels-elder-abuse
SAGE Advocacy, Safeguarding Ireland 2019 Tougher laws would encourage the public to ‘call out’ abuse of vulnerable adults https://www.sageadvocacy.ie/media/1610/safeguarding-ireland-press-release-190519.pdf