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Opinion

Let’s Break The Silence And Protect Our Elders

Let’s Break The Silence And Protect Our Elders
July 03
20:39 2017

Dr Krupali Rathod Tappoo is an Australian Qualified General Practitioner, a fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Medical Co-ordinator for Fiji based Non-Government Organisation – Sai Prema Foundation.
Dr Krupali is based at Mitchells Clinic in TappooCity Suva and has a special interest in Women and Children’s Health.

 

 

Aging is a natural stage of human life cycle and it should be lived with dignity, love and care. It is a privilege denied to many.

To the young, aging is exciting-it means later bedtimes and more independence.

By middle age the birthday cake fills up with more candles and slowly the gray hairs and wrinkles start to appear.

As we progress to older age, the gray hairs and wrinkles are much more pronounced however thanks to hair dye these days, even those aged 80 may have jet black hair.

In any country senior citizens are important contributors to the social, economic, cultural and political sectors.

In most developed countries, the chronological age of 65 is used to define elderly or older persons. The United Nations age cutoff to define elderly is 60 plus.

We know that the world’s population continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. Today 8.5 per cent of people worldwide (617 million) are aged 65 and above.

According to a new report, An Aging World 2015, this percentage is projected to jump to nearly 17 per cent of the world’s population by 2050 (1.5 billion).Surprisingly, most of this increase will be in developing countries. Staggering statistics, don’t you agree?

June 15 marked World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This initiative was started by the United Nations in 2012 to focus global attention on neglect, physical, emotional, financial and sexual abuse of elders.

It also seeks to understand the challenges faced by an aging population and bring together elders, carers, the government, private sector and all stakeholders in the community to exchange ideas and seek solutions to reduce elder abuse.

In Fiji this year, on the June 14, the Australia- Pacific Technological College organised an Elder abuse awareness forum. On June 15, a march was organised.

Many of you may be thinking that these issues are common in the developed world and do not exist in Fiji and in the Pacific Islands.

Why are we discussing this? Does it even apply to us? Well surprisingly, elder abuse is happening in all the countries around the world including Fiji and the Pacific Islands. About two decades ago, domestic violence was in the forefront and now we seem to have measures in place.

About a decade ago, child abuse seemed to have emerged as the new issues and this is now well known and there are guidelines and support services for this throughout the world.

And now, for the past five years, elder abuse has come into the attention of the media, and it is time that we accept this and come up with solutions.

Looking at some local statistics, in 2010 the older population aged 60 and over comprised eight per cent of the total population (69,300).

This is projected to increase to 17 per cent in 2050 (170,500).

The oldest old population – 80 years and above – is expected to increase from 5000 in 2010 to 28,500 in 2050. Fiji has a National policy on aging 2011-1015 with the vision of an inclusive society that instills dignity, respect for human rights and meets basic needs through empowerment of the older persons.

 

What is elder abuse?

“Elder abuse is defined as any type of abuse- physical, emotional, sexual, and economic or neglect of people aged 60 years or over either in a residential aged care facility, in private care, or living independently.

It can be 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.” (World Health Organisation).

Elder abuse occurs in all cultural and socioeconomic strata whenever there is an imbalance of power and is linked to increased disability and mortality. In essence, it is a violation of human rights.

Neglect is the most common type of elder abuse with about 58.50 per cent of total cases, followed by physical abuse at 15.7 per cent and then financial exploitation at 12.3 per cent.

Emotional abuse comprises about 7.3 per cent and sexual abuse at about 0.06 per cent.

You may be wondering, who may want to cause the abuse? In most cases it is includes family members or other community carers.

In residential aged care facility it  may be other patients, staff members, visitors or family members.

This may include physically restraining elders, depriving them of dignity and choice over daily affairs, intentionally providing insufficient care and over or under medication.

With regards to the prevalence there is no data in Fiji. In Australia, a New South Wales study of clients referred to Aged Care Assessment service showed that 4.6 per cent of older people living in the community and referred to the ACAT service had experienced elder abuse.

In studies in the United States, prevalence ranged from 11.4 per cent to 14.1 per cent. In fact there may be five unreported instances of abuse to every one reported.

 

Do you know the signs of Elder Abuse?

How can we prevent elder abuse from happening in our country? From the experience of other developed countries some interventions that seemed to be implemented include public and professional awareness campaign, screening of potential victims and abusers, school based intergenerational programmes.

In addition, caregiver support interventions such as respite care and stress management can be extremely helpful.

For those who may feel that we do not need residential aged care facilities- please think with an open mind as in the future there will be a lot more elderly people.

In fact, we need residential age care homes to review their policies and improve their standards of care whether it is through government support or help from the private sector.

Helplines can be extremely useful to provide information and referrals and this is already happening in most developed countries in the world.

A multi-sector approach is required from the social welfare, education and health sector.

Fiji lets break the silence and protect our elders, let’s talk about it. Wise words by Zen to Zany- When the Japanese mend broken objects, they fill them with gold.

They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful. It’s time we rethink our philosophy on aging.

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