Every year, the 15th of June is recognized as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It is a day, as
the name suggests, which is aimed at raising awareness of the plight of older persons as it
relates to issues of abuse. The 15th of June, at a minimum, ought to be recognised across the
length and breadth of Barbados given the sacrifice of older persons and our aging society.
Instead, the day often comes and goes without much notice. Similarly, actual cases of elder
abuse in societies around the world also go unnoticed- “only 1 in 24 cases of elder abuse is
reported”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The reasons for underreported
cases of elder abuse are multifaceted. Many times, the older person is fearful of victimization
and further abuse. In other instances, older persons living with dementia, especially in the latter
stage, may be incapable of properly articulating the abuse suffered. The COVID-19 pandemic
has aggravated the situation of many older persons and is estimated to have led to an increase
in the rates of elder abuse (WHO, 2021). Knowing that elder abuse not only exists but is
underreported, highlights the significance of the theme for this year’s World Elder Abuse
Awareness Day– ‘Access to Justice’ (United Nations, 2021).
Elder abuse, whether reported or not, exists where there has been “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.” (WHO, 2021) Elder abuse occurs in various forms– physical, sexual, psychological, and/or emotional abuse (WHO, 2021). It is therefore a serious public health issue. However, elder abuse is also a serious violation of the human rights of the older person; rights, which States have the primary duty to protect, promote and fulfill. Here again, the theme for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, “Access to Justice” holds much significance.
Government must therefore ensure that the barriers to accessing justice, such as the associated costs, the digitalisation of aspects of the legal process, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, and any unreasonable delays in the legal system, especially which result in the older person being kept in the abusive environment, are adequately addressed. Such action would also move Barbados closer to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably, SDG16 (Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels) and specifically Target 16.3, the promotion of the rule of law and ensuring access to justice for all.
Further, governments should introduce specific elder abuse prevention laws which consider the peculiar circumstances of older persons and address all forms of abuse. In fact, Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, the Honourable Cynthia Forde in 2018 acknowledged this when she stated that “[o]ver the next five years, my ministry intends to ensure that urgent policies and appropriate legislation [will be put in place] to stamp out all forms of elder abuse. Training will be offered to home help personnel and health professionals will be engaged in enhanced community outreach programmes.”
In addition to the government, the private sector and civil society also have important roles to play in rooting out the scourge of elder abuse. In this article, the focus is on youth perspectives on the issue of elder abuse and, in particular, why the youth of Barbados should become more engaged in addressing the issue of elder abuse and how they can do so.
Why should the youth care about elder abuse issues?
There is a well-known saying that it takes a village to raise a child. The youth should take an
interest in elder abuse issues as their grandparents, aunts and uncles took an interest in them growing up. The youth should take an interest in issues that affect their elderly loved ones as their loved ones looked after them when they were young.
The interaction and involvement of the youth in addressing the issue of elder abuse may have the potential to develop more caring and compassionate young adults and adults in the future. Also, intergenerational learning and approaches could prove beneficial for both young and older persons.
How can the youth get involved?
The more the youth are involved in elder abuse issues, the better for society, as they could give suggestions on the best way to tackle these difficult issues that have not been thought about before. Some suggestions include:
● Intergenerational Workshops as a means to bridge the gap between the generations, by
having activities that bring the youth and elderly together so an understanding between
the generations can be formed. The workshops can range from pen pals to day trips at a
● Use of social media as a platform to educate and create online communities to advocate
and provide support
Barbados Alzheimer’s Association Youth Arm
There is a connection between elder abuse and persons living with dementia. Discovering elder abuse of persons living with dementia can be extremely difficult because their persons may not be able to communicate that they are being abused, for the simple reason that they do not remember. Furthermore, if their caretaker is the abuser, they may fear retaliation.
Today, on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, the Youth Arm of the Barbados Alzheimer’s
Association will be launched. The Youth Arm aims to educate the youth on issues related to
Dementia and how to care for their elderly loved ones. One of the reasons the Barbados
Alzheimer’s Association created the Youth Arm was to support young carers and young people whose loved ones are affected by the disease.
The Youth Arm’s overall goal is to give support and a voice to the youth of Barbados who have had to look after their elderly loved ones and would be able to see firsthand some of the signs of abuse, once they have been educated on the signs they have to look out for.
For more information about the Barbados Alzheimer’s Association and its Youth Arm, please
Written by Kimberley Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org) who offers free report writing support for elderly persons and/or family members who wish to make a formal complaint of abuse and Carissa Nicholls (email@example.com) Director of the Barbados Alzheimer's Association Youth Arm.