‘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
According to the report, physical abuse was observed by 11.7 per cent of respondents while 1.8 per cent of nursing-home staff saw another member of staff slap or hit an older resident.
A small percentage (0.6 per cent) said they had seen staff throw something at a resident, and 0.5 per cent said that an older person had been kicked or hit with a fist or an object by staff.
More recently the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) reported it had been notified of 373 alleged, suspected or confirmed cases of elder abuse in nursing homes in 2013, most of which was reported by relatives or friends.
The NCPOP family carers’ report was launched at a special conference organised to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day last month.
The event was addressed by Simon Biggs, professor of gerontology and social policy at the school of social and political sciences at Melbourne University in Australia. He also runs a research team at the Brotherhood of St Laurence, an Australian anti-poverty charity.
Prof Biggs addressed the relationship between elder abuse, ageism and human rights.
He said that in order to understand continuing elder abuse in society it is important to look at it within a wider social context, encompassing both society’s attitude towards older people and the relationship between the older person and the State.
“Elder abuse is an extreme case; the extreme end of the spectrum of behaviours towards older people.
“But nevertheless we still have to ask why do we allow that to happen? Why was it detected much later historically than child abuse? Why are the services much less developed?” he asked.
“Our understanding of the dynamics of abuse are much less developed than they are for children, and to understand that you have to understand the priority that society gives to certain age groups and not to others,” he said.
According to Prof Biggs, society puts a “huge emphasis on productivity and the economic value of people” which means that older or disabled people who can no longer work are “almost automatically devalued”, while children and young people are seen as the future workforce or an investment.
“We underuse our older people: we don’t often allow them the opportunities to contribute to society . . . in a way they may wish,” he said.
According to Prof Biggs, studies have shown that members of the public perceive that elder abuse is happening a lot more than it actually is, particularly in residential care.
“Despite this, the actual pick-up rate of elder-abuse cases by support services is ‘appalling’.
“People assume that it is happening more than it actually is but there is not very much action to stop it happening, so that is the bottom line.
“I think that is why we have to ask the question about social attitudes. Why is that people can assume that elder care and the state of older people in society leaves them open to abuse?”
Prof Biggs said that, rather than considering elderly people as “unproductive”, a “burden” or “a grey tsunami”, as they tend to be perceived in most developed countries, it should be seen as “a great achievement and a great gift . . . that now we have a much longer lifespan, and an active and often productive lifespan, than we had in the past.”