Today is World Elder Abuse Day

older man portrait

Today is World Elder Abuse Day and an appropriate time to reflect on ground-breaking Scottish legislation in this regard – namely the Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007.

It is only in recent years that the public has started to become aware of the problem of elder abuse and policy makers, practitioners and researchers have started to make a concerted effort to understand and address the issue.

The Adult Support and Protection Act (2007) seeks to protect adults at risk of being abused. Scotland is the only nation in the UK that has legislation like this in place, although our sister charity, Age Cymru, has been campaigning to rule out abuse and the Welsh Government intends to pass a similar law to that in Scotland.

Despite current Scottish legislation it is estimated that elder abuse affects over 20,000 older people in the Scotland each year, or 1 in 40 of the older population. It is estimated that on average only 1 out of 5 cases is reported, with women and the ‘older’ old most affected.

Abuse and mistreatment includes neglect and financial, psychological, physical and sexual abuse. Where family members perpetrate abuse there is a reluctance to involve the police. Where an older person lacks full capacity it appears to be much harder to secure a prosecution, resulting in perpetrators of serious crimes going free.

World Elder Abuse Day raises awareness of the issue to ensure that vulnerable people are safe, protected from harm and given the right to dignity and respect.

If you are worried about a family member or someone you know or want to get information on elder abuse, you can phone the Age Scotland Helpline on 0845 125 9732.

HelpAge International: fighting for the rights of older people

This guest post is by Richard Blewitt, the Chief Executive of HelpAge International. The charity was recently awarded the world’s largest humanitarian prize for helping millions of older people enjoy healthier, more dignified and active lives.

Health in Haiti © Frederic Dupoux/ HelpAge International 2011

© Frederic Dupoux/ HelpAge International 2011

Older people’s contributions to society are invaluable, yet they remain some of the poorest and most neglected people in the world. HelpAge International helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives.

We involve older people in programme design, implementation and review and work in partnership with local, national and international partner organisations. We provide services where governments don’t, deliver humanitarian assistance when emergencies and natural disasters happen and persuade policy makers to address ageing issues.

I have been HelpAge’s CEO for six years, and one of my proudest moments has been HelpAge winning the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. The award is the world’s largest humanitarian prize, and is presented each year to an organisation that has delivered extraordinary work to alleviate human suffering. I was honoured to accept the award on behalf of HelpAge’s Board, global network and the older people we work for and with on 16 April at a ceremony in Washington D.C.

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The timing of the award couldn’t be better. Population ageing is being talked about more and more, especially with the world population hitting seven billion last year. 2012 is the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations and the year that the World Health Organization dedicated World Health Day on 7 April to ageing and health. Indeed, WHO hosted a live Twitter chat on ageing and health, which reached 20 million people.

All these events highlight the need to rethink our attitudes towards ageing. Not only is age discrimination morally wrong, but excluding older people from policy and programmes around the world puts all of us at serious financial risk.

We know that when you invest in older people you are investing in entire communities. For example, girls in South Africa living with grandmothers who receive a pension are three centimetres taller than those who don’t. This highlights how older people who receive a pension use it to benefit not only themselves but their families and communities.

Mama Brigita and grandsons

Mama Brigita, aged 64 takes care of eight grandsons in Kenya. © Frederic Dupoux/ HelpAge International 2011

This is despite the fact that older people make huge contributions to their communities; as breadwinners, entrepreneurs, farmers, volunteers, campaigners and carers. Half of the world’s children who have lost parents to HIV and AIDS related illnesses are looked after by a grandparent, yet they are offered no support and the funds being invested into the issue of HIV are dwindling.

Through our work, we hear time and time again that what older people value is their health and strength. This is what they depend on to provide for themselves and their families. However, both can decrease with age, meaning that older people are extremely vulnerable to poverty as many have no access to appropriate or affordable healthcare.

The neglect to ageing issues is happening at every level. There is no UN agency that focuses on older people and only a handful of people in the entire system work specifically on ageing. I myself was completely age-blind before coming to HelpAge, despite two decades of experience in the development and humanitarian sectors.

What can be done to change this? I believe that the countries of tomorrow are those that are thinking about ageing and seeing the opportunities it presents. Older people need secure incomes and we must ensure that microcredit and other income sources are made available to them. We need to make the most of our ageing farmers around the world and figure out how we pass on their wealth of knowledge and encourage younger people into agriculture.

Older women should have their land rights protected. Specialised healthcare professionals need to be trained in gerontology. Older people have specific needs in disasters and emergency situations, and these needs must be acknowledged and met.

Finally, listening to older people and supporting them to influence policymakers has to be central to everything we do. For example, our Age Demands Action campaign is led by older people and helps them channel their energies to make changes to their lives, families and communities.

Rapid population ageing needs to urgently be addressed. Developing countries are ageing four times faster than the UK and US. To deal with the consequences, we need policy solutions that take into account the changing demography of the world.