Elder Abuse is a Worldwide Problem
By PAMELA B. SMITH
Some Asian countries have been held up as models in the treatment of older adults, where elders are revered and often remain in the family home when they need care.
Unfortunately times are changing. Just a month ago,Japan instituted its first elder abuse law to try to stem a growing problem there.
Traditionally, Japan has had a family-based caregiving system, and the character of that relationship has remained relatively private and respected as such. Typically the eldest son’s wife is the caregiver of her in-laws, often against her wishes.
Various forms of elder abuse are now being identified in Japanese families, with daughters-in-law as the most common perpetrators. Also, with major cultural changes occurring, especially in more urban areas of Japan, caregiving is shifting from that family model to a more formal, community-based caregiving system. With the advent of “outsiders” now being involved in the care of elders, the incidence of abuse and neglect is becoming more noticeable.
With this awareness of elder abuse in Japan, the question arises: how are other nations treating their older adults? This is an especially important question when you consider that by the year 2025, the global population of those age 60 and older will reach 1.2 billion, double the number from just 1995.
In June, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) organized the first annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (June 15) to call attention to the commonality of elder abuse issues worldwide, as well as some of the unique cultural differences.
In Africa, for example, older people (usually women) are scapegoated for problems that hit the community, such as drought and epidemic deaths. They can be ostracized or even killed. In Tanzania, land shortages have led to accusations of witchcraft, forcing older women from their homes. In Argentina, 45 percent of an urban sample of older persons reported that they had been mistreated, most often through psychological abuse. Three years ago, Israel’s first national survey on elder abuse found a high rate of neglect impacting both Jewish and Arab seniors.
In developing countries, where most of the world’s older persons live — most of them poor — there have been few studies and no systematic collection of statistics regarding elder abuse. Even so, there is evidence from crime records, news reports filed by journalists, social welfare records and some small studies, that elder abuse (physical, emotional and financial) is widespread.
In the U.S., studies on elder abuse are also in their infancy, compared to research on child abuse and domestic violence. There is no consistent elder abuse reporting method among all the states, so it’s not possible to track numbers for the nation. One common statistic is that only one out of every 14 instances of elder abuse is reported, but even that is a guess.
Locally, Adult Protective Services, a program of Aging & Independence Services, investigates reports of elder abuse countywide. In 2004, APS investigated 8,146 cases of elder abuse. In 2005, there were 9,117 cases. We expect the number of cases to grow again this year.
The first World Elder Abuse Awareness Day helped us realize that we are certainly not alone in recognizing and fighting against these terrible crimes. Awareness of the problem is the first step, but only the first step.