Concern over hidden abuse of the elderly

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, NOV. 29. Social scientists and medical practitioners have termed abuse of the elderly as an `unspoken' and `unaddressed' issue of contemporary society, according to speakers at a seminar on `Abuse, neglect and violence of the elderly' organised by the Centre for Gerontological Studies in the city today.

The former president of the International Federation of Aging, S. D. Gokhale said 37 per cent of the abuse cases involving the elderly were committed by their own children. Out of this more than 50 per cent of the cases relate to property, inheritance and rights, he said quoting figures.

Mr. Gokhale identified a loss of prestige to the family members and a fear that the elderly are too old to defend themselves, as the major constraining factors behind a lack of publicity for abuse cases involving the elderly. According to him, the abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial or just neglect.

A. B. Dey, chief of geriatric services, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said only in extreme situations does an abuse victim come out in the open. "None of the patients whom I have treated have ever complained of abuse. But this does not mean that they are all safe and fine," he said.

He pointed out that for the elderly, reporting an incident of abuse taking place inside their own home is taboo. Health care professionals as a rule tried to stay clear of abuse issues in order to avoid any embarrassment to the patients. "It is quite tricky to interfere in an individual's private domain," he said.

Dr. Dey suggested an incorporation of issues concerning the elderly, as a subject into the academic curriculum in order to sensitise the students. The formation of help-lines, social investigations, counselling centres and better interpersonal relationship with the police were suggested to improve the situation.

The two-day seminar, being attended by over 50 delegates from across the country, will conclude tomorrow.

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