Globally, the number of people aged 60 years and above, is increasing and is estimated to accelerate in the coming decades, especially in developing countries. Living longer is a remarkable achievement; older persons are living human treasures and valuable resources who sustain intergenerational ties. As a result, it is very important for them to be included in all development plans. Poor planning for the aged impacts all facets of the society such as labour and financial markets, education, housing, health and social care, social protection, transport, information, communication, family structures and intergenerational ties.
In recognition of the importance of older persons to any community, Dewdrop Foundation and CGE Africa, are currently implementing a project which focuses on curtailing elder abuse in 11 communities in Enugu State. Enugu State was selected as a pilot because of the rate of elder abuse in the State, as well as the lack of legislation to protect the elderly and improve their welfare. To ascertain the level of elder abuse in the Enugu State and by extension the South East and Nigeria in particular, a baseline survey was conducted in the target communities.
The Decade for Healthy Ageing provides a new opportunity to address the gender power relations and norms that disproportionately influence the health and well-being of older women and men and the intersectional links between gender and age. Planning for healthy ageing MUST therefore be inclusive, taking in the needs of men and women alike. “Older women are more often poor and have fewer savings and assets than men. Because of a lifetime of discrimination that negatively affects women’s equal opportunities … security in older age and access to … benefits are worse for older women…. The pace of population ageing is accelerating. Today’s developing countries must adapt much more quickly to ageing populations than many developed countries” (WHO).
Findings from our baseline survey established that older persons experienced physical, emotional, neglect, sexual and financial abuse. Nearly three (3) in ten (10) older persons across the communities reported experiencing some form of abuse and/or neglect. Emotional abuse was the most common type of abuse observed, followed by neglect, then financial abuse, sexual abuse and physical abuse. Of those who were physically abused, many of them had broken bones.
More than ever before, the health and welfare of older persons is on the front burner today. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the lives of the aged around the world as they are the most susceptible to the virus. Additionally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), most older people live in developing countries. In 2020, for the first time in history, people aged 60 years or over will outnumber children under 5 years. By the end of the Decade of Healthy Ageing (2020–2030), the number of people aged 60 years and older will be 34% higher, increasing from 1 billion in 2019 to 1.4 billion. This calls for concern, judging by the development plans of many developing countries.
To achieve improved ageing, there is the need to activate all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For instance,
• the first of the 17 Goals alone, address this adequately; protecting their rights to employment and retirement choices (Goal1),
• increased attention to the nutrition of older people to reduce malnutrition that leads to dependency (Goal 2),
• as most health systems are not designed to cater for the chronic ailments of older persons, adequate health and social care needs of the ever-increasing numbers of older people is essential to achieving universal health care (Goal 3),
• continuous learning and personal growth – which should not stop because a person is old – should be encouraged as they enable older people to adjust to ageing, do what they value, make decisions and help them to be independent (Goal 4).
• Finally, empowering women and girls remains very crucial; on the average, women live longer than men, they comprise the majority of older persons and are also more at risk of abuse (Goal 5).
Dewdrop Foundation hereby calls for the implementation of the recommendations from the baseline survey, thus:
Elder abuse should be regarded as a human rights violation and hence a state policy should be developed with such a perspective to make elder abuse culpable and punishable by law. There should be development of state guidelines, risk mapping tools, and screening instruments for Caregivers which will facilitate harmonized action against the abuse of elders. Most importantly the recommended policy
should provide for health care for the elderly and social protection scheme that will cater for elders that worked in the informal sector.
Research is required in assessing which social systems and populations at the structural level that might increase vulnerability to elder abuse. This might be but not limited to economic situations, cultural peculiarities, sexism and ageism. Comprehensive knowledge about the abuse of elders and the dissimilarities and similarities at the state and national levels is required and ought to be addressed
through further studies. Research should also focus on the diverse groups of risk factors for the diverse types and intensities of brutality in elder abuse.
The high prevalence rates of abuse found across the participating communities and the fact that more than half of the abused elders did not report or talk about the incident(s) they had experienced indicate the need to further raise awareness on this topic. Opening and developing the discourse on violence against older persons would increase the visibility of the occurrence and address the social stigma surrounding it, not only within the target group, but also in the wider public sphere. Awareness creation can also contribute to increase in exposure of abuses.
TRAINING FOR PROFESSIONALS:
Medical, security sector and financial institution professionals need to be sensitized and trained on the existence of different types of elder abuse and their cruelties because they all occupy strategic positions that make them trustworthy to elders.
As people age, they may develop health problems. This leads to a decrease in physical strength, vision, and thinking abilities. These changes make older adults vulnerable. They may depend on others for care (caregivers). They may be unable to tell when someone is taking advantage of them. There is need for Caregivers training at all levels to enhance caregivers’ sense of competency in caregiving and reduce the risk of elder abuse.