Abuse among the elderly has perpetually been a growing concern. Elder abuse received the least amount of recognition and attention as of the beginning of the 20s. Even though by the 21st century we were quite aware of the other forms of prevalent abuses in domestic and institutional set-up, elderly abuse has continued to remain unaccounted and unreported for the very lack of its identification.
According to “The Older Population: 2010” Census briefs, about 13 percentage of the world’s population was age 65 and older, which is expected to encompass 19.3 percentage of the population by 2030. This means the elderly population is of considerable bulk and needs to be catered to in terms of their physical and mental health care along with their judicatory.
New research in this field is surfacing to enhance our understanding of elder abuse, its causes, characteristics and preventive measures. New theories as to why people of older age suffer from psychological and physical neglect and abuse are being developed, to discourage the ill-treatment elder people have to face in domestic environments.
Due to the lack of systematic empirical data on this subject, the real causes of elder abuse are yet to be discovered. Unless and until a thorough understanding of the existence and prevalence of elder abuse is acquired, it will fail to instigate a social response. Researchers say that there is also an absence of a guiding theory as to why elder abuse happens. Unlike other forms of abuse, like domestic violence, physical abuse, and psychological abuse, elder abuse has not gained enough notoriety to be considered urgent social evil. Nevertheless, cases of elder abuse is being reported and its prevalence is gaining momentum.
What is elder abuse?
It is of absolute necessity to have a well-structured definition of elder abuse to categorize actions as abusive or non-abusive. It helps determine the intensity of the abuse and take proper actions for it. Elder abuse is often very vaguely defined or is defined for specific requirements say for research purposes or on a cultural, regional and territorial basis, resulting in the absence of a generic definition that is accepted worldwide.
Sketching elder abuse:
An elder person is someone who is of the chronological age 65 years or above. Most developed countries of the world accept this age range as the standard age range to define ‘older people’. But Older Americans Act Of 1965 defines an older person as “an individual who is 60 years of age or older.”
According to the American Medical Association (1997), elder abuse can be defined as, “An act or omission which results in harm or threatened harm to the health or welfare of an elderly person. Abuse includes the intentional infliction of physical or mental injury; sexual abuse; or withholding of necessary food, clothing, and medical care to meet the physical and mental needs of an elderly person by one having the care, custody, or responsibility of an elderly person.”
In simpler words, it is an action by a caregiver or any person with whom the elderly are associated in a relationship of trust that infringes on physical and psychological health, security of an elder person, with the means to harm them or omission of actions which involves providing, caring and meeting needs and taking responsibilities of an older person.
The perpetrator is the offender or the person in relation to the elderly person who inflicts harm or abuses the elderly person. Such a person must be someone on whom the elder person has willingly assumed obligation or is bound in a relationship of expected trust.
A perpetrator can be anyone – current or former legal spouse, caregiver(informal or formal), children, grandchildren, family relatives, other intimate partner with whom the elderly might or might not be co-habiting (former or current girlfriend/boyfriend/partners of opposite or same sex), care custodian, legal guardian, friend, casual acquaintances, anyone in powerful position of trust or even a stranger.