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As the Elderly Population Increases, So Does Abuse

The elderly population around the world has been growing steadily ever since they have been treated as a separate demographic group. People over the age of 60 made up 9.2 percent of the population in 1990, 11.7 percent in 2013 and they are projected to hit 21.1 percent by 2050. As of 2013, two-thirds of the elderly population live in developed countries. However, the aging population in developing countries is growing faster than in developed countries. Eight in 10 elderly people will be living in developing regions by 2050.

While these statistics are interesting, they are a cause for concern when taking into account the amount of abuse that the elderly population is subject to in developing regions. Abuse against elders ranges from sexual,psychological and emotional abuse, financial abuse, neglect and physical violence. This is especially frightening considering the elderly demographic is one of the most under-acknowledged social, public health and human rights issues.

Because women live longer than men, they tend to become the most common target for abuse. This is only amplified by the increasing trend of women living alone. Often times this abuse manifests itself in claims of witchcraft. This might seem like an outdated notion, but the trend continues to this day and has been reported in 41 countries such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, India, Kenya and Nepal.

While there is data out there regarding elder abuse, there is a considerable lack of statistics regarding this issue. The World Health Organization has found that prevalence rates and estimates of elder abuse only exist in select developed countries, ranging from 1 to 10 percent. Outside of developed countries, the WHO says that abuse is under-reported by as much as 80 percent. This is further emphasized by the sharp decrease in support structures for the elderly population, particularly in developing countries, which points toward increasing neglect and poverty. The relative poverty of the elderly tends to be higher than the population average, no matter how developed the region they live in.

Thankfully, there are organizations to help combat this issue. The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, founded in 1997, has since gained consultative status with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. By utilizing international collaboration, the INPEA aims to raise awareness and knowledge on these issues, advocate on behalf of the elderly, increase society’s ability to recognize and respond to abuse and research the causes and consequences of abuse.

While there is work being done to help decrease abuse, more needs to be done as elder abuse is proving to be an increasingly pressing issue considering the steady increase in the aging population.

 —  Andre Gobbo

Sources: UN 1, UN 2, WHO
Photo: World Crunch