June 15 is recognised by the United Nations as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). As the number of older people around the world is growing, the level of elder abuse is also expected to rise in coming years. This day is observed annually to raise awareness and help put and end to elder abuse in all its forms around the world.
Elder abuse occurs when there is action, or lack of appropriate action, within a trust-based relationship, which causes distress or harm to an older person. This can take the form of physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and financial abuse. For 2017 the United Nations is focusing on the theme, “Understand and End Financial Abuse of Older People: A Human Rights Issue.”
Recent research findings draw specific attention to financial exploitation and material abuse of older persons as a common and serious problem. Based on available evidence, 5 to 10 per cent of older people globally may experience some kind of financial exploitation.3 However, such abuse often goes unreported, partly due to shame and embarrassment on the part of the victims or their inability to report it because of cognitive and other impairments, and most prevalence studies are based on self-reported surveys.
Financial exploitation takes many forms. In developed countries, the abuse often encompasses theft, forgery, misuse of property and power of attorney, as well as denying access to funds. The overwhelming majority of financial exploitation in less developed countries includes accusations of witchcraft that are used to justify property grabbing, ejection from homes of and denial of family inheritance to widows. Risk factors for falling victim to financial exploitation range from social isolation and cognitive impairment to emotional or physical dependence on the perpetrator, financial dependence of the abuser on the older person, certain living arrangements, poverty, widowhood and lack of support networks, in addition to ageism and other types of prejudice, discriminatory inheritance systems, as well as weak police and criminal justice systems.
Advocare is the peak body for elder abuse in Western Australia, and is a valuable source of information and resources on preventing and dealing with elder abuse. Advocare has provided a free starter pack for people interested in holding an event for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, available to download here.
Social Justice Statement on Ageing
The 2016-17 Social Justice Statement from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) is focused on the issues associated with Australia’s ageing population. Titled, “A Place at the Table: Social justice in an ageing society,” it calls for a higher level of care for older people who are vulnerable, and urges us to value older Australians and ensure they have “a place at the table.”
Click here to read the statement, and access related resources including liturgy notes, prayer cards, and ‘ten steps to creating a place at the table.’