A majority of older persons face elder abuse all the time throughout their old age irrespective of their financial or social status, health condition and role in their respective family according to a study.
To commemorate the United Nations World Elder Abuse Day on June 15, the Agewell Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, interacted with over 3,400 old people in 323 districts across India through its network of volunteers to understand the cause and effect of Elder Abuse in Indian homes and sharp focus on needs and rights of old people.
“It was found that 65 per cent of old people are poor with no source of known income. 35 per cent have money or properties, savings, investments, inheritance and or supportive children. Irrespective to their financial status, most old people face elder abuse in one form or the other,” says the study.
According to UN estimates, the global population of people aged 60 years and older is set to touch about 1.2 billion in 2025 and globally around 4 per cent to 6 per cent of elderly people have experienced some form of maltreatment at home.
About 9 per cent of those surveyed said they had been physically harassed or assaulted, while 13 per cent said they were denied basic needs, another 13 per cent quoted mental torture and 20 per cent elders surveyed cited restrictions on their social life. Misbehaviour and ill-treatment were cited by 37 per cent while 8 per cent cited other forms of harassment.
Denial of food, medicines, emotional blackmailing, threatening, shouting, abusing and beating besides more severe cases such as being tied up in case of disability are some of the various forms of abuse.
Himanshu Rath, who heads the non-profit, which works for the welfare and empowerment of the elderly, says there are multiple ways available for old people to prevent abuse.
He says the government must ‘create awareness about rights of older persons, advocacy of old age issues at all level of governance and ensure implementation of policies pertaining to protection of interests of older persons’.
Elder Abuse is also denial of human rights of old people, says Rath.
“During the consultations it was observed that due to lack of awareness about their rights in old age, many people are compelled to live in inhumane conditions,” he says.
It was found that older women were worst affected and found to be more prone to suffer elder abuse due to factors like gender discrimination, longer life span in comparison to older men, longer span of widowhood, no source of income (as traditionally most of them are housewives), comparatively high illiteracy among elderly women, lack of awareness about their rights, social norms and above all their higher level of patience and tolerance.
“Hence most elderly women remain within four walls of their houses and majority of them are abused by their own family members,” says Rath.
Older persons can keep in contact with old friends and neighbours if they move in with a relative or change to a new address. Asking friends to visit them at home is helpful even a brief visit insures observation of their well-being.
Accepting new opportunities for activities can bring in new friends.
Other steps elders can take to prevent abuse include participating in community activities as long as they are able and staying sociable as they age, maintaining and increasing the network of friends and acquaintances.
Image: An elderly woman walks on a crowded street in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh. Photograph: Adeel Halim/Reuerts