Elder Abuse


In May 2016, Barbados society was rocked by the video of a frail elderly women in a nursing home being beaten and humiliated. The video went viral, as these things do and predictably there was a great public outcry; people were enraged and sickened by what they had seen and there was an immediate call for justice and action. This happened to be Barbados, but there have been numerous scandals in many countries of the world about the abuse and maltreatment of elderly people and really, it could have been anywhere. And behind every public scandal lies many thousands of untold stories about the suffering and pain often inflicted upon older people- yes, elder abuse is common; despite this, the issue is often neglected in discussions on domestic violence and DV legislation rarely considers the specific ways in which older people are at risk. Policy designed to safeguard the elderly tends to emerge from debates about the 'societal burden' of the aging population and this reinforces the view that the problem is getting older, diverting attention away from the extent and causes of such violence. Elder abuse is a domestic violence issue and for this reason, the None in Three team have decided to dedicate our thematic discussions for the month of June to the topic. Our hope is that we can increase understanding of the complex dynamics of interpersonal violence and that the calls for justice in Barbados will lead to a greater debate about the wider societal factors that contribute to violent behaviours. We must see the elderly person as an individual and we must see the person that inflicts harm upon the elderly person as an individual but we must also recognise individuals are part of, not separate from society. Surely no-one gets up in the morning deciding that today he or she will abuse an elderly person... so what are the factors that might lead to this? Adrian Green, a creative communications specialist from Barbados has this to say:

With old age eventually comes your second infancy; a second period of almost total vulnerability and dependence. The saying is: "Once a man and twice a child". Try very hard to grow old in a society that respects little children and treats them as though they have rights. Because how the people around you treat their young dependents, will probably be a mirror of how they will treat you when you are an older dependent. ...You never know who will end up as your child's aunty at the nursery or your aging father's nurse in the nursing home. If you live in a culture where people are taught to respect and care for the rights of even the weak and vulnerable, it should be easier to find caretakers who really care. Because if I can respect and protect those who can do nothing for me, it is easy to do so for someone who can. Societies often tolerate and sometimes endorse the neglect and mistreatment of certain groups: the foreigner, the disabled, the poor, minorities, children, animals, prisoners and other groups which may be more vulnerable. We treat children in ways it would never be acceptable to treat adults and some argue that persons who have committed certain criminal offences should lose all rights. The problem is, neglected and mistreated persons often grow into neglectful and abusive persons. And those persons first perfect and hone their talent for neglect and abuse on the people in society who are weakest and most vulnerable...

See more at: http://www.nationnews.com/nationnews/news/81502/real-reap-sow#sthash.hbPq8CCy.dpuf

Seeing older people

Older people are often regarded as a homogenous group - referred to as 'the old'; 'the aged'; 'the infirm', these collective labels denude a person of humanity and individuality. We are reminded of this in a poem that was first circulated over half a century ago: Click here to show/hide the poem

An Old Lady's Poem

What do you see, nurses,
what do you see?
What are you thinking
when you're looking at me?

A crabby old woman,
not very wise,
uncertain of habit,
with faraway eyes?

Who dribbles her food
and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice,
"I do wish you'd try!"

Who seems not to notice
the things that you do,
and forever is losing a
stocking or shoe.....

Who, resisting or not,
lets you do as you will,
with bathing and feeding,
the long day to fill....

Is that what you're thinking?
Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse;
you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am
as I sit here so still,
as I do at your bidding,
as I eat at your will.

I'm a small child of ten
with a father and mother,
brothers and sisters,
who love one another.

A young girl of sixteen
with wings on her feet,
dreaming that soon now
a lover she'll meet.

A bride soon at twenty --
my heart gives a leap,
remembering the vows
that I promised to keep.

At twenty-five now
I have young of my own,
who need me to guide
and a secure happy home.

A woman of thirty
my young now grown fast,
bound to each other
with ties that should last.

At forty, my young sons
have grown and are gone
but my man's beside me
to see I don't mourn.

At fifty once more
babies play round my knee,
again we know children,
my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me
my husband is dead;
I look at the future,
I shudder with dread.

For my young are all rearing
young of their own
and I think of the years
and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old woman
and nature is cruel;
'Tis jest to make old age
look like a fool.

The body, it crumbles,
grace and vigor depart,
there is now a stone
where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass
a young girl still dwells
and now and again,
my battered heart swells.

I remember the joys,
I remember the pain,
and I'm loving and living
life over again.

I think of the years
all too few, gone too fast,
and accept the stark fact
that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, people,
open and see,
not a crabby old woman;
look closer ...see ME!!
(Attributed to Phyllis McCormack, 1966)

What is elder abuse?

'Elder abuse is 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.' (International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, cited in World Report on Violence and Health, 2002:126). It is generally agreed that abuse of older people is either an act of commission or of omission (in which case it is usually described as "neglect"), and that it may be either intentional or unintentional. Although women are generally disproportionately affected by domestic violence, according to community-based prevalence studies, older men seem to be at equal risk as older women of abuse by their partners, carers and relatives. (WHO 2002:127)

Regardless of the type of abuse, it will certainly result in unnecessary suffering, injury or pain, the loss or violation of human rights, and a decreased quality of life for the older person

Elder abuse includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect, and abandonment. Perpetrators include children, other family members, and spouses-as well as staff at nursing homes, assisted living, and other facilities.

  • Physical abuse means inflicting physical pain or injury upon an older adult.
  • Sexual abuse means touching, fondling, intercourse, or any other sexual activity with an older adult, when the older adult is unable to understand, unwilling to consent, threatened, or physically forced.
  • Emotional abuse means verbal assaults, threats of abuse, harassment, or intimidation.
  • Confinement means restraining or isolating an older adult, other than for medical reasons.
  • Passive neglect is a caregiver's failure to provide an older adult with life's necessities, including, but not limited to, food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.
  • Wilful deprivation means denying an older adult medication, medical care, shelter, food, a therapeutic device, or other physical assistance, and exposing that person to the risk of physical, mental, or emotional harm-except when the older, competent adult has expressed a desire to go without such care.
  • Financial exploitation means the misuse or withholding of an older adult's resources by another.


Read more about elder abuse here: http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/global_campaign/en/chap5.pdf

Latin America and the Caribbean

In 2012, governments from Latin America and the Caribbean met together to forge a charter on the rights of older persons. In respect of abuse, the charter obliges State parties to 'Reject any type of abuse of older persons and undertake to work to eradicate it by:

  1. Implementing policies and procedures to prevent, punish and eradicate any type of abuse or ill treatment of older persons, including penalizing those responsible;
  2. Establishing mechanisms for prevention and supervision and strengthening legal mechanisms in order to prevent any type of violence against older persons;
  3. Guaranteeing special protection of older persons who, because of their gender identity, sexual orientation, state of health or disability, religion, ethnic origin, homelessness or other conditions of vulnerability, are at greater risk of being abused;
  4. Providing older persons with access to legal remedies to protect them against property exploitation'

(San José charter on the rights of older persons in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2012)

More information about action to prevent elder abuse in the Caribbean can be found in the conclusions of the Caribbean Conference on Ageing, Elder Abuse and the Rights of Older Persons (2015)