“A Total Indifference to our Dignity” – Older People’s Understandings of Elder Abuse

8 Jun

Research Launch Report

2.30 pm-4.00 pm, Monday 13th of June 2011-06-08 Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin 

This report is the first Irish study to directly consult with older people about their perceptions of elder abuse. Funded by the Centre for Ageing and Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI) the project titled A total indifference to our dignity: Older People’s Understandings of Elder Abuse brought together research partners from a range of agencies, sectors and disciplines, including Queen’s University Belfast, Trinity College Dublin, the University of Ulster, the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust (NI) and Age Action Ireland, an independent researcher and four peer researchers. Findings show that the current definitions of elder abuse, which centre on the actions or inactions of a person or persons where there is an expectation of trust, ignore wider societal issues like the withdrawal of respect and recognition. This serves to place older people in vulnerable positions. Standard typologies of abuse were recognised by participants, although sexual abuse was not commonly mentioned except when prompted. However, what emerged was a new concept of ‘personhood abuse’. This refers to societal attitudes; how these affect a person’s confidence, autonomy and agency resulting in an inability to say no or to stand up for oneself against abusive acts, words and pressures possibly from fear of negative repercussions such as withdrawal of contact and/or care. Many ways were identified to support older people and reduce the opportunity for abusive actions to occur. They centred on community-based and peer supports through to ‘having someone to talk to’ and being aware of their rights. Continued involvement in community based activity keeps people active and participating in society. For example community transport and clubs, supported people’s access to amenities and opportunities for engagement and were identified as ways to prevent abuse from happening. Enhanced status, resources and support therefore need to be given to these types of community activities to prevent abuse occurring in the first place. These types of supports can enable older people to share their concerns in an everyday setting and to gain informal support and confidence; seeking more formal interventions when necessary. Jill Manthorpe, Professor of Social Work, King’s College London has commented  that there are few examples of older people contributing to debates on elder abuse and so this report will be of interest to policy makers, researchers and practitioners in helping services beyond the island of Ireland. Yet this is only one step in a longer journey to explore older people’s views and experiences. We will need to talk to people who are in different circumstances to complete our picture of what older people want and feel they have a right to expect. The authors of the research would very much like to hear from you with your reactions to the study.

Dr Janet Carter-Anand

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