by Care Alliance, 18 July 2017
#6 How do you prevent subtle coercion of older people?
- In a 2015 New Zealand study published by the Office for Senior Citizens, 10.1% of those aged over 65 years report “coercion” and 6.9% report “not trusting most people in their family” (p.15). The same study shows (p. 16) that women and men over 65 years experienced feelings of vulnerability (11.3% and 7.5%), dependence (12.4% and 10.4%), dejection (18.2% and 17.6%) and coercion (8.7% and 11.3%) respectively.
- Age Concern in New Zealand reports that it receives more than 2000 cases of elder abuse or neglect each year of which “about three quarters are confirmed to involve elder abuse or neglect” (about 1500 in total). Over 75% of cases involve psychological abuse. One third of abused older people live alone and three quarters of alleged abusers are family members, of which almost half are adult children. It has been estimated that only about 16% of actual elder abuse cases come to the attention of service agencies (p. 11) such as Age Concern. This means that the likely number of our elders being abused or neglected in New Zealand is in excess of 9,000 every year.
- Research published in 2005 by the NZ Ministry of Health has shown that those making serious suicide attempts are likely to be characterised by high rates of social isolation, feelings of loneliness, poor social support and lack of a close, confiding relationship (pp. 20, 30). Several studies have established that loneliness is a significant problem for the elderly in New Zealand: an Auckland Council commissioned study found that 44.5 percent of Auckland residents aged over 50 consider themselves to be moderately lonely and nine percent consider themselves “severely” or “very severely” lonely (p. 11); the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Aging (see page 19) described 41.2 percent as ‘moderately lonely’, 7 percent as ‘severely lonely’ and 3 percent as ‘very severely lonely’.
- We live in an increasingly ageist society that devalues being elderly and fosters negative attitudes towards the elderly. The struggle of older workers seeking employment is a particular symptom of this. As a 2011 NZ Institute of Policy Studies Working Paper notes: “The number of older people experiencing or vulnerable to FEA [Financial Elder Abuse] appears to be increasing, and this may not be solely due to population ageing … The economic pressures on families and the demands of paid work are growing, contributing to the allure of assets in the hands of older relatives” (p. 22 – 23).
- A proponent of euthanasia, British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, responded to the defeat of the Assisted Dying Bill in the UK in 2015 with the comment: “They argue that grannies will be made to commit suicide … Even if a few grannies get bullied into it [suicide], isn’t that the price worth paying for all the people who could die with dignity?“
Conclusion: It will not be possible to prevent or even detect subtle coercion of older people. Large numbers (in the Auckland area more than 50%) of our elders in New Zealand are already lonely, itself a form of systemic coercion, while significant and growing numbers report being coerced by, or not trusting, family members.