The inexorable march of time makes elders of all of us eventually.
Life expectancy in India has increased to 64+ years today. Due to better living standards, vastly improved sanitation and access to quality healthcare, people are living longer. By 2050, around 20% of our population will be seniors. Whereas globally, seniors’ numbers will increase to 2 billion by 2050.
There are innumerable stories of silent suffering in the world of the elderly. Age has become a burden for a rapidly increasing number of seniors today. It could be the home, senior care homes, hospitals, social settings or the workplace – the elderly face a wide range of abuse, from the obvious verbal, physical, emotional/psychological, financial and social, to more subtle forms. Physical abuse is more rampant amongst the less educated and financially weaker sections, whereas emotional abuse is more common amongst the upper strata of society.
Irrespective of the form of abuse, the impact is manifold, including sustained mental trauma, at a time when old age itself gives rise to various ailments. It is a major social problem globally, cutting across all socio-economic segments of society.
The abuse often stays within the four walls of the family home. The traumatized senior feels too ashamed of the humiliation to speak to outsiders. Or, if in an institution, like care homes, too afraid of retaliation to speak up – helpless and hopeless, often. An existential crisis indeed.
WORLD ELDER ABUSE AWARENESS DAY
In 2002, WHO brought global attention to the vexing issue of elder abuse. In 2006, the International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse-INPEA, designated 15th June as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day – WEAAD. Various events are held to highlight and raise awareness about this deplorable fact.
WHAT IS ELDER ABUSE?
WHO defines elder abuse as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action occurring within any relationship where there is expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older/senior person.” Further, it is a violation of human rights and includes various forms of abuse, neglect and abandonment, leading to serious consequences.
Apart from the specific forms of abuse, casual humiliation, ridicule or criticism on grounds of age ie. Ageism, has become quite common now. Unfortunately, most people look the other way. Many people do not even realize that their actions or seemingly harmless comments can lead to mental or physical pain and otherwise cause harm to the senior. Which is why even “nice” people need to be more sensitive and mindful when interacting with an elderly. It can have a far-reaching, sometimes devastating impact.
Compassionate care, including adequate nutritious food, appropriate healthcare, safety, security and emotional happiness in a conducive environment with due respect and dignity, must be ensured for seniors in a civilized society.
ELDER ABUSE IN THE INDIAN CONTEXT
Traditionally, Indian culture and society has held their elders in great esteem, treating them with respect and reverence, but apparently it no longer holds true. INPEA mentioned in its 2016 report that India leads in Asia in terms of elder abuse and exploitation! How did this come about? How did values, behavior and viewpoints change so drastically?
Rapid urbanization and an aspirational, materialistic society, desiring its own “space” as well as a willingness to relocate for better work prospects and comforts, combined with the digital ‘smart’ life, contributed to the breakup of the joint Indian family and the subsequent disintegration of the traditional value system.
The pan-Indian joint family has been intrinsic to our culture from time immemorial – the bedrock of society. The collective family unit forged strong bonds and they supported each other, sharing their joys, sorrows and responsibilities – marriage expenses, other special occasions, helping in times of financial crisis, taking good care of family elders, widows, singles or physically-challenged.
People in these families comprising of grandparents, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces and other extended family members, learnt to live in harmony with adjustment and co-operation and had a sense of family loyalty and duty. Children imbibed the traditional Indian values of respect, tolerance, compassion and charity, truth and forgiveness – and “seva- bhav.”
Interacting with the seniors and grandparents daily, they learnt to respect and appreciate their love, guidance and wisdom. They absorbed the moral stories of truth, honesty and devotion from our scriptures and the religious rituals. They learnt to revere rivers and trees, in fact all Nature as manifestations of God – and therefore did not defile it. It reinforced in their minds the love, care and respect the elders were entitled to and they appreciated and understood the perspective of the seniors.
The changing value-system has made our society self-centered, disrespectful, dishonest, greedy, unkind and disloyal to family and even the country. The cultural changes have led to sidelining, mistreatment, abuse, isolation and even abandonment of our elders. They are often seen as a waste of time and money; their emotional happiness not considered and maladjusted unkind caregivers, often take out their frustrations on the helpless elders.
SURVEYS AND RESEARCH
Surveys carried out by HelpAge India and Agewell Foundation reveal that abuse primarily occurs in the family home, followed by assisted-living homes and hospitals. 60-70% victims are women. Abuse increases with age -70 yrs. or above. 62% elders have experienced some form of abuse. Over 58% have been abused by their own family. But 80% elders don’t want to report it, for reasons given above.
Emotional/verbal abuse leads with 62% followed by physical at 58% and then financial exploitation. In recent years, physical abuse and denial of basic amenities has shot up 30%. Callous indifference and economic greed make it inconvenient to budget for a senior in the family. 79% elders said they were being mistreated due to financial constraints.
Recent phenomena of Covid-induced lockdowns increased the risk of senior abuse, according to 62% elders. Over 20,000 calls from distraught elders were received by HelpAge India during the 2nd wave.
In India, it is an issue of domestic and institutional abuse, followed now by societal abuse. Elders’ needs and opinions are frequently ignored. They are sidelined and not included in family discussions or decisions. Nor included in recreational activities.
A legal or social infrastructure is necessary for our elderly, but till our society does not go back to our traditional value system and people are not sensitized at the individual level, things may not change. Therefore, an empathetic society, government policies and welfare programs with better implementation, combined with concerned organizations and NGO’s, need to come together to prevent and stop the heinous abuse of seniors, by raising awareness and awakening the moral consciousness of people.
“To slight a single human being is to slight the Divine Power- and thus to harm not only that being, but all Humanity.” – Mahatma Gandhi.
EMOHA Eldercare is devoted to the welfare of our community of elders. Please do come forward and contact us for comprehensive and compassionate solutions for the problems and needs of elders. Covering all aspects. For us, it is always #EldersFirst.