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June 15 Is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

By Mrs. Helen Charles, Executive Director, Helpage Saint Lucia National Council of and For Older Persons

Helpage Saint Lucia National Council of and For Older Persons takes this opportunity to high light the importance on preventing the abuse of the elderly in our communities.

We are now working with community groups on the prevention of elder abuse, the right of older persons and ageism. We are appealing to all Saint Lucians to come together to support us in the prevention of elderly abuse in Saint Lucia.

No matter how old we are, we are all entitled to be treated as full members of our communities. Yet elder abuse is a significant challenge to our nation. Elder abuse is widespread and impacts everyone in our society. It takes away from our public health, civic participation, and economic resources. The mistreatment of older people can take many forms including physical, emotional, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, and neglect. Though as many as 1 in 10 older persons is abused each year, a majority of cases go unreported for many reasons, including a lack of social support organization which is needed to make reporting easier.

Elder abuse, neglect and exploitation: The goal of interventions is to stop the abuse of older adults and hold the perpetrators accountable. Important consideration is to determine if the older adult is in immediate danger and what can be done to increase their safety. It is essential to know what barriers exist to helping the individual as well as what resources are inviolable in the community. The law requires that persons/ caregiver who knows the elder are been abuse should report it to the nearest police station. However, is that enough? Government organizations who are responsible must be armed with greater policies and mandates to protect the elderly from these situations.

Risk factors of abuse, neglect and exploitation; Older adults who are dependent upon family members are particularly vulnerable. Abusers may threaten to institutionalize the elder. Victims who rely on others for help with finances may be abused through misuse of power of attorney. Neglect is a type of abuse more dangerous when victims are independent on an abuser. A lack of caregiver experience, inability to provide an appropriate level of care can put elders at risk. Abuse includes actions which result in bodily harm, pain or mental distress. Where neglect is a failure to provide care and services when an adult is unable to care for him or herself. Exploitation is the illegal or improper use of an adult’s money or property for other person’s profit or advantage. It has been found that stressed or overburdened caregivers are more likely to abuse the elder, especially when the relationship is poor to begin with, it has been found that older adults are at much higher risk for being abused at the end of life because of the risk factors for abuse are acquired as the persons health status decline.

Ageism; Ageist beliefs are still present in today’s society. These beliefs place a stigma on growing old and permit younger generations to distance themselves from their older relatives by utilizing stereotypes that perpetuate aging myths.

Some of these stereotypical views are: using older people as senile, as inflexible in thought and behaviour, as having old-fashioned views on morality, and being physically feeble, frail and slow. Ageism contributes to prejudice against older individuals and puts elders at risk for abuse and neglect.

In general, abuse is defined as a pattern of coercive behaviour used to establish power and control over an intimate partner that often creates an environment of fear for the elderly. Elder abuse is not clearly defined, but we must ensure that we pay attention and listen to our elderly family members. The funding for elder abuse intervention and prevention is limited therefore the Helpage Saint Lucia National Council for and of Older Persons is playing a vital role in advocating on behalf of the elderly.

No matter how old we are, we deserve to be treated justly and as full members of our communities. We can all ensure that remains a reality for us as we age by reporting these or other signs of abuse to the right persons who can investigate potentially abusive situations.

We are the solution. If we notice an elderly person in our community is in immediate danger, it is up to us to call 911/ police as soon as possible.

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