Social Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox, speaking at the ministry’s webinar on Thursday on elder abuse, noted the sharp recent rise in reported cases.
Ms Cox told participants there were 174 reported elder abuse cases for the first five months of 2021, compared to 153 for all of 2020.
In 2019, then director of the Division of Ageing Dr Jennifer Rouse warned of the imbalance in the age groups in the population and the elder-abuse reports coming in at a rate of 12 per month. Between January and May, that rate almost tripled to an average of 35 a month.
There has been a steady increase in reports of elder abuse year over year – from 101 complaints in 2017 to 110 in 2018, rising to 285 in 2019.
Investigations lead to half of these complaints being actionable.
One factor in the apparent increase may be that more cases are being reported, thanks to greater awareness among the public of elder abuse as a crime against the helpless, and that there are agencies to which it can be referred.
The minister noted the factor of caretaker burnout in cases of elder abuse, something that's only likely to have increased with covid19 restrictions continuing for so long.
There are wider implications: this is not a TT phenomenon alone.
UK adult health and social care advocate Jackie Marshall-Cyrus said at the webinar, "In the fight to suppress the abuse of older adults, our armoury remains poorly equipped.”
Global analysis of elder abuse under covid19 restrictions points to increased abuse among lower-income, marginalised members of the ageing population.
In Los Angeles, according to surveys by Biomed Central, the rate of abuse among elderly lower-income Latinos was as high as 40 per cent. In Mansoura, Egypt, elder abuse was estimated at 43.7 per cent.
For the elderly, economic vulnerability is compounded by challenges posed by age-related infirmities and indifference to the fate of parents and grandparents.
Understanding the local reflection of this problem is something the Social Development Ministry must make a priority.
Are these increases related to covid19 stresses? Is increased awareness of elder abuse encouraging more reporting?
Is there a need for more qualified caregivers in the community? More support systems to help caregivers care for their charges safely?
In 2018, a joint select committee on social services reported that 216 out of 217 geriatric homes of concern are not registered.
Understanding the impact of covid19 on the aged in TT is likely to be the work of long-term analysis; the Health Minister has had, shockingly, to plead with children and guardians of the occupants of elder-care homes even to allow them to be vaccinated against the virus.
A response to the situation is needed now if the most vulnerable among us are to have a chance at surviving this immediate threat with dignity.