‘He put me in a prison and he kept me there’

Despite the fact that many elderly people are abused by ‘carers’, society has been slow to address the issue

A hidden issue: it is estimated that 11,000 older people in Ireland suffer from some form of abuse

A hidden issue: it is estimated that 11,000 older people in Ireland suffer from some form of abuse

Tue, Jul 1, 2014, 01:00

‘It is like being in a prison and in a dark hole and you cannot see any light. He put me in prison and he kept me there”

“My glasses fell off me and broke, and the button came out. I had a red coat and the button came out of the top of the red coat. This was physical, it had never happened before.” (Quotes from victims of elder abuse. Source: Older People’s Experiences of Mistreatment and Abuse, NCPOP, UCD, 2012.)

It is estimated that 11,000 older people in Ireland suffer some form of abuse. However, while the rights of the child are enshrined in legislation, the abuse of older people has been recognised only recently as a serious societal issue.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO): “Even today, elder abuse continues to be a taboo, mostly underestimated and ignored by societies across the world. Evidence is accumulating, however, to indicate that elder abuse is an important public-health and societal problem.”

A survey launched last month revealed that more than a third of family carers of older people said they had engaged in some form of potentially harmful psychological or physical behaviour towards the person in their care in the previous three months.

The study, Family Carers of Older People: Results of a National Survey of Stress, Conflict and Coping, was carried out by the National Centre for the Protection of Older People (NCPOP) at UCD. It surveyed 2,311 family carers of older people in Ireland in receipt of a carers’ allowance and found that 8 per cent reported behaving in a potentially harmful physical way towards the older person in their care.

The report also found that 3.9 per cent of family carers reported physically harming the older person in the previous three months. This included roughly handling, hitting, slapping, or shaking them.

Overall, 0.9 per cent of carers reported that they handled the older person roughly in other ways and 0.5 per cent admitted to hitting or slapping the older person sometimes in the previous three months.

The report also found that a very small proportion of carers reported that they shook or withheld food from the older person.

Elder abuse has been defined as “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”.

In Ireland elder abuse refers to the mistreatment of a person over the age of 65 and is divided into five categories: emotional or psychological abuse; financial abuse; sexual abuse; physical abuse, and neglect.

The latest national elder abuse prevalence study was carried out by the NCPOP in 2010. The survey of more than 2,000 older people living in the community revealed that 2.2 per cent had suffered mistreatment in the previous 12 months. This suggests that roughly 11,000 older people in Ireland were abused in the past year.

To date there has been no national study on the prevalence of elder abuse in nursing homes. However a 2012 study by the NCPOP of 64 nursing homes revealed that 57.6 per cent of staff reported that they had observed one or more neglectful behaviours by other members of staff in the preceding year.

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