Solicitors in Milton Keynes - Family Law, Motoring Law, Domestic Violence

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Shamefully, elder abuse is something that is becoming more and more prevalent in society. Around 1 in 6 people over 60 have experienced some form of abuse, in a community setting, over the past 12 months. This is shameful, but not altogether surprising, as the percentage of the world’s population who are over 60 is accelerating at an exponential rate, and expected to more than double by 2050. Currently in the UK over 22% of the population are aged 60 or over. Also, perhaps unsurprisingly, rates of elder abuse have increased during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of elder abuse is  ‘a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person’. It depends what part of the world you live in to ascertain at what age you become ‘an older person’, but clearly age is a key part of the definition. Unfortunately, any construct of abuse which has age as a key aspect is going to be problematic. To paraphrase one age-old saying (no pun intended!) ‘age is but a number’.

George Foreman was 45 when he regained the heavyweight boxing championship of the world – he was the oldest man to do so. Shirley Bassey was 70 when she last played Glastonbury. Much of the audience had not yet even been born when she had her first number one hit at age 19! Nelson Mandela was 75 (the oldest South African President ever) when he became President, whereas John F Kennedy was only 43 (the youngest American President ever) when he was elected as President of the most powerful nation on earth.

Age is but a number –albeit sometimes a very unwelcome one – but it is also a convenient way of categorising victims of elder abuse. 60 seems to be the universal starting point, however it is difficult to see why say a 60 year old may claim to be ‘an elder’, whereas say a 55 year old may not. The average age to become a grandparent for the first time is 50.

The other difficulty is, how many times does a ‘simple’ negligent or deliberately neglectful omission have to happen before it becomes classed as ‘abuse’? Clearly, a carer who accidentally-on-purpose forgets to give his/her charge much-needed medication, is obviously perpetrating abuse. But what is the situation if this is done say once a year, or every now and again, as an act of spiteful revenge, to ‘teach a lesson’, or to encourage gratitude? The overwhelming majority of carers for elders are family members, some of whom are very reluctant indeed. Societal, if not familial, norms expect relatives to step up to the plate, and this is a pressure that is not easily resisted.

The legal threshold for harm is easier to see than the moral one; if there is no actual harm, as required by the WHO definition, how should society respond when say adult children treat their parents less than honourably, as the Bible injuncts us against?

Since the advent of the ‘domestic violence revolution’ it has become increasingly apparent that psychological and emotional abuse is ‘a thing’. Its effects can be far worse, devastatingly insidious and greatly more pervasive, with greater long-term impact than physical abuse. Elder abuse is more likely to be ‘pure’ financial abuse or ‘hybrid’ emotional and financial abuse, especially as victims get older and natural ageing processes, such as dementia set in. That is why front line service providers such as healthcare and social care should be diligent to devise and implement more effective strategies to detect, address and prevent elder abuse.

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