DIRECTOR of the Division of Ageing Dr Jennifer Rouse said reports of elder abuse is on the rise. Rouse was the feature speaker at World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, hosted by the TT Police Service Victim and Witness Support Unit (VWSU), on June 15, at the St Mary’s Parish Hall in Tacarigua. The day is commemorated annually and is dedicated to bringing awareness to issues surrounding the mistreatment of senior citizens.
Rouse said data collected from the use of the 800-OPIC (Older Person Information Centre) hotline, activated in 2004, showed a growing number of reports of elder abuse. On average, there are 12 reported abuse cases per month, she said, “and these are just the documented cases. Many cases go undocumented.”
Rouse lamented that there has been a major cultural shift in the past few years that no longer makes ageing a social issue, but an economic issue. “If we had to go to (Finance Minister Colm) Imbert now to convince him as to why more money needs to be put into this particular group it would be because of the numbers,” Rouse said.
“The rate at which we are ageing is 2.2 per cent, whereas the rate for millennials is 0.2 per cent. Families have shrunk and the number of people going into the workforce has decreased, which means the NIS and PAYE are now within a more contracted labour force will not have enough persons to give contributions to sustain themselves.”
Rouse suggested that the average age group of Venezuelan migrants are within the 20-40 bracket and has the potential to fill this gap. However, she said, programmes still need to be put in place for proper training because, “Not everyone can be a caregiver.”
She said research shows that 16 per cent of informants of elderly abuse complained of being lonely although they did not in fact live alone. “Somewhere along the line, we have become very ‘me, myself and I,’” she said.
“We have strayed from our sense of duty, commitment and responsibility. Do you see yourself in who you care for?” she asked
“It is unfortunate that as a society we forget that elders are also human and deserve our respect,” Aisha Price-Corbie, manager of the VWSU said as she discussed the different forms of abuse that senior citizens face on a daily basis, including physical trauma, emotional and sexual abuse, financial manipulation and neglect.
Global research indicates that the world’s population of people above the age of 60 will soon exceed the number of younger people. Corbie suggested that these figures “demand a greater response to policy, legislation and planning to effectively promote the well being of all.” She also provided statistics for the 2018, which reflect a high occurrence of reports of abuse of people over the age of 67.
According to the report, 67 experiencing domestic violence, 29 were murdered, 324 had been victims of burglaries and break ins and 320 were victims of robberies, indicating that the elderly are more susceptible to crime.
Corbie urged the public to “watch for signs of abuse and stay connected to ageing family and friends.” She also urged the ageing public to make sure their finances are in order to prevent anyone taking advantage of them in their old age.
Assistant Commissioner of Police, Community Relations Patsy Joseph highlighted the need for there to be more involvement and awareness programmes geared toward young people, as they do not properly understand the needs of the elderly. She also suggested that seniors need to be properly monitored by the government.
“We have the Children’s Authority and designated social workers for the children. Something like that needs to be put in place for the elderly.” She said a community registry system could be implemented, where every city and borough can keep track of the elderly, especially those living alone, so that proper outreach can be conducted.
“If there is a mandate that they are checked on regularly, they will not be easily forgotten.” Psychiatrist Dr Varma Deyalsingh agreed, stating that the public can work with local security providers like bmobile to create an elderly alert system or panic button, especially for those living alone. Deyalsingh also highlighted cases of financial abuse and suggested that banks and attorneys should alert other family members if documents are being signed under suspicious circumstances, and advised that preventative measures for this kind of behaviour should be put in place in all financial institutions.