June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD)
Visit the It's Not Right Website
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that our survival depends on society putting the good of all above individual needs. The climate crisis pushes us to go further, valuing all life and our planet. Globally, we are learning hard truths that we will ‘sink or swim’ together as a species. Given the strong individualistic worldview that has been dominant in North America for a few hundred years or so, it is no small thing to reimagine a society organized by the laws of interconnection and interdependency. It turns out, we need each other to survive. No one is unimportant or expendable. Diversity is a strength in a vital eco-system. Society has to reorganize now to reflect these truths, to sustain ourselves.
Such large social change may seem like an overwhelming and impossible task, but the way forward has also been visible in the pandemic response. Small everyday actions that support public health are contributed by people of all ages, across communities. Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay socially distant. You do it for yourself and the people around you. These are actions for the ‘good of all’. They add up precisely because we are interdependent and interconnected. Every action has an impact. In this way, everyone who participates is contributing to a healthier, safer world.
Small everyday actions are also part of changing our current state with respect to older adults. Ageism is the social condition that permits widespread abuse and neglect of older adults. The United Nations reports that every second person in the world is believed to hold ageist attitudes – leading to poorer physical and mental health and reduced quality of life for older persons, costing societies billions of dollars each year. It remains the last form of discrimination that is widely accepted in our culture. Ageism is like hating yourself in the future. It’s not something that only happens to other people, we are all vulnerable. Violence, abuse and neglect of older persons are the most hidden and underreported violations of human rights.
“Not only are older persons at high risk of serious illness and mortality, but they continue to face disproportionate cases of age-based discrimination, stigmatization and subjected to multiple violations of human rights. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on reports of abuse and neglect of older persons, particularly in long term care institutions and the community.” There is much for us to do to change our future. It starts with how we act today.
Small everyday actions are also part of changing our current state with respect to older adults. COVID has shone a bright light on the ways we are called to examine our attitudes and beliefs about aging and how we treat older adults. Contrary to the mistaken belief that most older adults live in congregate care settings, 91% of seniors live in private homes in communities. Neighbours, friends and family members can learn to recognize warning signs of abuse and neglect, how to have an effective conversation that can open the door to support and where to find help in the community. Recognize, respond and refer, these are actions that can make a big difference for a senior experiencing abuse. Supporting an older adult is a meaningful contribution that moves us as a society toward the ‘good of all’. Visit It’s Not Right! Neighbours, Friends & Families of Older Adults to learn more.
Individuals can also support collective actions that acknowledge the urgent need for real social change:
The International Longevity Centre Canada is a think-tank focused on the rights of older persons and is part of a Global Alliance. ILC is calling on the Canadian government to take definitive action to uphold fundamental human rights with a United Nations Convention on the Rights of Older Persons. Visit the website and participate in a letter-writing campaign to show your support. Human rights never get old!
The Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and partners are creating a pan-Canadian engagement strategy to promote shared actions across the country to prevent abuse and neglect of older adults in every community. The strategy will be published in the fall and will provide a roadmap for individuals, organizations, communities and governments to work together toward common prevention goals.
In many provinces-territories and local communities, there are elder abuse networks comprised of professionals and citizens who care about the wellbeing and safety of older adults and are actively working toward educating and engaging everyone in the community. Find them, support them, join them.
 According to the 2011 Canadian census, 91.2% of older Canadians live in private households or dwellings.