The challenges of ageing
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which is celebrated every year on June 15, must this year be viewed within the context of a wider European agenda.
The European Union has proclaimed 2012 as the Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity. The Parliamentary Secretariat for the Elderly and Community Care has undertaken a number of initiatives to bring ageing and solidarity to the attention of the public. But the challenges of ageing and their economic, social and health implications go beyond 2012 and the government has acknowledged that these challenges require a longer term perspective and commitment.
Although notable improvements have occurred in recent decades, positive attitudes towards older persons need to continue to be fostered. Twenty per cent of our population is aged 60 years and over and we therefore need to encourage more opportunities for and better and fuller participation by older persons in public life. Discrimination on the basis of age must be tackled and eliminated. A nationwide exercise is needed to assess and improve the age friendliness of the physical and social environments within our towns and villages.
In October 2011, the Office of the Commissioner for Older Persons started to operate. Foremost among its aims are the specific rights and interests of older persons and of the need to safeguard those rights and interests.
The commissioner is expected to keep under regular review the adequacy and effectiveness of all services provided for older persons by all relevant authorities and to encourage best practice in the treatment of older persons.
The commissioner is expected to hear the views of older persons and encourage and empower older persons to voice their ideas and concerns wherever and with whoever is in duty bound to act in their interests, be it public, private or commercial entities.
The rights of older persons and their protection from abuse eventually need to be weaved into national legislation to guarantee universal protection of those rights. This becomes more relevant as older citizens become frailer and, therefore, potentially more amenable to abuse.
Abuse of older persons has social and moral significance. It can take various forms, such as physical, psychological or emotional, sexual and financial abuse and can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect.
The World Health Organisation states that estimates exist only in selected developed countries – ranging from one to 10 per cent – and that, in many parts of the world, elder abuse occurs with little recognition or response. The elderly person is especially vulnerable because of cognitive deficits such as dementia, physical frailty and general dependence on others.
Information from police reports indicates that elder abuse in Malta ranges from verbal abuse, to anonymous telephone calls to domestic violence together with cases of elder abuse within a residential setting ranging from financial to physical abuse as well as neglect.
A policy on the prevention of abuse on older people living within St Vincent de Paule Residence and other homes for the elderly in the public sector has been in place for many years. This policy promotes the safety of residents and encourages residents, their families and staff members to raise any concerns they may have about the abuse or possible abuse of residents. It also obliges management to deal with these concerns appropriately and immediately through clear and established protocols.
On this occasion, I call upon the health care and social service sectors to continue with their efforts in identifying and dealing with problems related to abuse. Society is urged to stamp out elder abuse with courage and determination.
The author is Parliamentary Secretary for the Elderly and Community Care.