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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) takes place each year on 15th June. It was officially recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011 following a request by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. The purpose of WEAAD is to raise awareness of the abuse and suffering inflicted on some of our older generations.
Elder abuse can be defined as “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”. This is a global issue and one that continues to grow as life expectancy increases and in turn, the population of elderly people increases each year.
Elders may be subjected to many forms of abuse including neglect or physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse. The abuse generally takes place against vulnerable elders who may be unable to speak out or fully understand the extent of the abuse.
An example of a particular vulnerability that an elder may experience is lack of capacity resulting from dementia. There are around 850,000 people (most of whom are aged 50 or over) living with dementia in the UK. It is important to note that dementia is a progressive disease and many people can lead very normal lives for years after diagnosis. However, there are times when diseases such as dementia can lead to a person losing capacity. It is at this point that elders are most likely to be subject to abuse, as they may be unable to understand what is going on or explain their concerns.
A common form of abuse is financial and this often occurs because an incapacitous elderly person is targeted, particularly by family members who seek to justify the abuse by arguing that the elderly person, who has lost capacity, decided to gift them money.
Approximately 1 in 6 people aged 60 years and older experienced some form of abuse in community settings during the past year, but sadly, it is estimated that only 1 in 24 cases are reported. In recent years, poor conditions within local authority care homes have been widely reported as a result of lack of supervision and improper care. In many instances, this substandard care is attributable to worsening symptoms. Many vulnerable elderly people also rely on care providers to assist them in their homes. As this takes place in private, there is a higher risk of physical abuse occurring.
The World Health Organisation have suggested strategies for the prevention of elder abuse. Some of the advice includes awareness campaigns, mandatory reporting of abuse to authorities, emergency shelters, and school-based intergenerational programmes.
Headed by Natalie Marrison, our Abuse team are experienced in advising on and pursuing civil claims for abuse suffered by elders. We are able to obtain relevant witness and expert evidence to support the allegations made. Survivors instruct us directly or through a litigation friend if they lack capacity.
Our Court of Protection team can provide help and advice if you are concerned that an elderly family member or friend are currently being subjected to financial abuse. Please get in touch with our Court of Protection team on 0344 3260049 to discuss how we can help.
If you believe an elderly family member or friend have previously been subject to any other form of abuse, contact 0113 887 1834 for a confidential discussion on how we can assist.
June 15, 2021
Veronica is a Partner and Solicitors in the Private Client department.