The UN-designated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day this year assumes greater significance amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The elderly - people above 60 - have been advised by experts to be more vigilant about taking precautions against the deadly virus as they are more susceptible to it.
According to a World Health Organisation report, ill-treatment of older people has increased significantly as the pandemic spread. WHO and other UN-linked organisations have called for an urgent action plan to tackle the abuse of older people.
The abuse of older persons can be of various kinds, according to experts. It may be physical, verbal, sexual, financial or can even be grave neglect by family members. WHO defines the abuse of the older people as: "a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person".
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, observed every year on June 15, was started by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) in 2006. In 2011, the United Nations adopted it as a designated day for prevention of abuse of the older people.
Until recently, the older people would scarcely be vocal about abuse by family members including children because of fear and taboo.
The abuse of older people in society is preventable and each one of us has to be aware of the signs. Cuts and bruises, malnourishment, poor hygiene, confusion and anxiety and reclusiveness are some of the prominent signs, says a UN study. There have been cases of institutional neglect and abuse in homes for the elderly also. If we notice any of these signs it can be reported to organisations like The Helpage India.
Noting that neglect, verbal abuse and isolation are the three top forms of abuse that elderly suffer from, Sonali Sharma of Helpage India said, "it has been seen that the main abusers are their own children... there is a law (Maintenance and Welfare of Senior Citizens Act, 2007) under which if children do not look after parents they can be jailed. So there is a legal tool that can be used by the elderly and we sensitize them to use it to protect themselves."