Elder abuse continues to be a worldwide problem. This year, former minister of social welfare, Paurina Mpariwa, accused the Zimbabwean government of neglecting the elderly. Since the Older Persons Act was signed into law, the government has failed to implement the provisions including protection from all forms of abuse such as physical and psychological harassment and social neglect. Due to the global prevalence of elder abuse, the world observes World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15 each year. WEEAD provides an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons. This event is achieved by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.
The significance of elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue has been acknowledged by the United Nations International Plan of Action. Elder abuse diminishes the quality of life of elders. For instance, neglect is a type of abuse that can be inflicted either by the elder’s caregiver or oneself. Signs of neglect include malnutrition and dehydration, poor hygiene, noncompliance to a prescription medication, and unsafe living conditions. In Africa, this abuse can cause the elderly to leave their homes and families. Since old age homes are not widespread and elder abuse is rarely reported, the elderly end up living on the streets. Elderly street begging is common in Africa and there are very few health systems that currently address the problem. In addition to being a marginalized and vulnerable group, elderly street beggars are at risk for diseases, malnutrition, and mental health issues.
It is unfortunate that elder abuse also happens in institutions of care like nursing homes and more. In Cape Town this year, an old age home was investigated for the alleged abuse of the elderly. According to the Department of Social Development, the allegations ranged from deaths due to poor treatment and human rights violations. The Department also stated that if there was a need to go to court, they would obtain an order to close the old aged home. As professionals in aging and health, these issues are troubling because they still persist with no lasting solution. Elder abuse can happen in families and institutions of care; places where elder abuse should not happen. Although the old age home in Cape Town was unregistered, which is a huge grievance, the main goal is for everyone to have dignity and respect for each other irrespective of age. Without this mindset, elder abuse can persist despite policy recommendations, health interventions, etc. The United States is a good example.
WEAAD serves as a call-to-action for individuals, organizations, and communities to raise awareness about elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Everyone should make elder justice a priority by launching various initiatives such as old age homes or shelter homes in Africa. The shelter home provides greater protection and psychosocial assistance to the elderly especially those that are in family abandonment situations. These homes will help to decrease the incidence of street begging among the elderly since the elderly leave their own homes due to elder abuse. The shelter homes will also contribute to the elder’s social and economic conditions and thus retrieve the respect to people submitted to various abuses. In the long run, the elder’s quality of life will be improved.
Let’s take a stand against elder abuse and protect seniors today!
Sophie Okolo is the Founder of Global Health Aging