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  • Sahana Hegde

Ageism and the Cost of Elder Abuse

Sahana Hegde writes about elder abuse and ageism and the cost of ignoring this widespread issue.

In recent years, interpersonal abuse, particularly in romantic relationships, has gained attention as a sociopolitical issue. However, elder abuse remains a less discussed form of abuse, both socially and from a policy perspective. Elder abuse statistics reveal several reasons for this including systemic ageism and a narrow understanding of what constitutes abuse and who can be a victim/survivor.

Ageism– systemic discrimination based on age– has documented effects on health, is more common than we think, and even impacts the economy:

1. Older patients get less attention in healthcare settings:

This is particularly detrimental given that people experiencing ageism are also more likely to experience depression and other psychological disorders, develop heightened cardiovascular stress, and die earlier. (Yes, these outcomes are associated explicitly with exposure to ageist stereotypes and not old age itself– I checked. Yale says so).

2. Elder abuse is rampant worldwide:

Elder abuse is a product of systemic and cultural ageism. It is, in fact, a rampant problem not only in India but around the world. Multiple Indian statewide studies report the prevalence of reported elder abuse anywhere from 9% to 60%. This covers financial, emotional, and verbal abuse and neglect. The Dignity Foundation, HelpAge India, and The Print have all written about the phenomenon of elder abuse in different capacities.

3. The cost of ageism:

If all of the above– combined with the knowledge of your relentless march to senescence– isn’t enough to convince you that ageism is a significant problem (for instance, if you are a large-scale corporation), consider also that it is estimated to cost about 63 billion USD in the United States alone.

Qualitative research offers a few insights into what’s behind these numbers. A 2014 study found that shame, a lack of accessible services, dependence on their abusers, and religious ideas such as karma were among the reasons abused elders failed to seek help. A second study from Bangalore also noted a “statistically significant association between elder abuse and total financial dependence, lack of social support, and depression among the elderly patients.”

In some ways, elder abuse follows similar patterns to other forms of abuse, such as poly victimisation, elderly women being more vulnerable, statistically speaking, than men, or education is inversely associated with victimisation. Srinivasa Chokkanathan, pointing this out, calls for including multiple indicators of mistreatment in elder abuse research (2017).

Abuse of all types has significant and long-lasting impacts on mental and physical health. Elders across demographics and socioeconomic statuses facing or have faced abuse have markedly higher rates of psychological distress. Further research into risk and protective factors, and mechanisms of abuse, is undoubtedly imperative to improve responses to abuse survivors. But to focus solely on research of this nature would neglect the countless people around the country living through abuse today.

Towards that end, Levin & Perconti have compiled a list of resources to help survivors of elder abuse, which you can access here: Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect.

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