(photo credit: Sasson Tiram [file])
Under the banner of the first World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, being marked worldwide on Thursday, local organizations working with the elderly hope to raise awareness to the problem of mistreatment and neglect among the older generation.
According to Dr. Israel Doron of Haifa University's department of gerontology and school of social work, elderly abuse is a relatively new social phenomenon both in Israel and around the world with very little awareness in the general community.
"Worldwide it was only in the late 1980s and early 1990s that people became aware of violence against the elderly," Doron told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Wednesday. "In Israel elder abuse only became known several years ago."
"It is embedded in the unique social dependence of people in old age," continued Doron, who is also active in the Association of Law in the Service of the Elderly, a non-profit organization aimed at promoting the rights of the elderly via advocacy and legal activities. "Because old people are dependent on others such as their children or caregivers they are at greater risk from neglect." And Doron believes that Israel is no different from other places around the world.
"In a study on the subject published a year and a half ago we really surprised ourselves. We used to think of Israeli society as being one that respects and cares for the elderly," said Doron. "However, what we found was that we are very similar to other countries."
The survey conducted by Eshel, the association for the planning and development of services for the aged in Israel, the National Insurance Institution (NII) and the University of Haifa's faculty of social welfare and health studies found that of the 1,045 elderly people questioned, at least 18.4 percent felt they had been the victim of physical, sexual or verbal abuse or they had suffered an infringement on their personal freedom or been taken advantage of financially in the year proceeding the study.
"In the last two years there has been some attempts to address the issues," said Doron, adding that one of the main goals of Elder Abuse Awareness Day is to provide information to doctors, nurses, social workers, caregivers and family members about this problem.
"Older people are ashamed to say anything about it so we need to provide professionals with the knowledge and tools to identify the problems," said Doron. "There is a law, similar to the law regarding abuse of children, that legally requires a professional to report cases of abuse in the elderly. Many people do not know about this law."
Zena Boxer, a nurse at a Jerusalem hospital said that she was aware of the law. She also said that she had seen numerous cases of elder abuse, especially in people from old age and nursing homes. "In most cases it is neglect caused because the caregivers are lazy," said Boxer. "We have to pick up the pieces afterwards, sometimes we can help but sometimes its too late."
Sara Alon, director of programs for elder abuse at Eshel, which is run jointly by the Israeli government and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, said that activities are being held throughout June to highlight the problem among those who work with the elderly and a conference on the subject is set for June 27 under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Welfare and in the presence of the new minister of senior citizens affairs.
She added that Eshel in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare and the NII runs a special program aimed at preventing abuse in 17 municipalities countrywide as well as an empowerment group for the elderly to provide them with information their rights. She also said that a hotline, run by volunteers from the ERAN association, had been set up for senior citizens exposed to abuse.
Among events planned worldwide, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse has called for people around the world to "Wear Something Purple" on Thursday and for them to "show the world you care about ending elder abuse and neglect." In New York, the United Nations will be holding a one-day symposium on the subject.