One of the topics discussed at a conference on ageing I recently attended in India was that of elder abuse. It led me to have a look at the ACT policy which I had never thought to check before. I was horrified but I shouldn’t have been. When I think about it, elder abuse is merely an extension of ageism but at a particularly personal level.
I wonder how long it will be before the situation where younger people, who have no idea of what it is like to age, stop being employed in departments or organisations which purport to act on behalf of us older people? This not only applies to public service departments but also to private organisations which purport to act on our behalf, often being given not-insubstantial grants to do so. Only then do I think will we older people come into our own and the ‘problem’ of an ageing population diminish.
At the same conference I heard a couple of people from outside the ACT saying what a good job the government was doing to turn our national capital into an ‘age friendly city’. This is obviously the message the public servants employed in this area are putting out about their work. Personally, as an older person who lives here, I can’t see any change happening. I guess if you are given a job to do you have to ‘sell’ what you are doing to justify being paid to do it. I think of this every time I do my grocery shopping as I fight with a trolley which wants to go any which way along a slope which doesn’t go the way people want to go, at our major local shopping centre. The woman responsible for the design of the centre was very abusive about what the community wanted and wouldn’t let us have it (such as ease of access between shops and parking lot) so we are stuck with her poor design for ever.
Meanwhile we need to tackle the problem of elder abuse as it can obviously make the lives of older people literally not worth living. There is plenty of literature on what constitutes abuse but basically it occurs whenever older people are not treated with respect, and as equals. This behaviour includes depriving them of food (such as in one care facility which was accused in court on two occasions of being guilty of failing to do. I’m not sure why they didn’t lose their licence on the first occasion, let alone the second. It also includes financial, spiritual, physical etc. support. This isn’t spelled out in detail in the legislation so I am sure there is plenty of abuse which the perpetrators don’t realise they are committing. Even if they did I suspect that the punishment wouldn’t amount to more than sending a message to be more careful not to get caught next time.
This is all very cynical but as long as the voices of older people are not heard abuse will continue to be perpetrated. What the legislation needs is to be clarified by examples of what constitutes abuse and with adequate penalties involved, not only for the perpetrators but also for the victims so they know that they don’t have to put up with this treatment. Although those operating aged care facilities should be well aware that they need to provide adequate food and drink for their residents.
I believe that this is the sort of issue the Ministers Advisory Council on Ageing should be raising. Apparently not. One day may be our voices will be heard.