Our world’s population is undergoing an extraordinary shift, one that is unfolding at an unprecedented pace. In many nations, the proportion of older adults, typically defined as those aged 60 and above, is rising dramatically and, according to the United Nations, it is projected that by 2050, it will surpass the number of children aged 15 and under on a global scale. This demographic shift, driven by advances in healthcare and improved living conditions, brings with it unique challenges that revolve around Human Rights violations, elder abuse, inadequate healthcare access, and social exclusion, underscoring the necessity of reevaluating social and governmental attitudes and policies.
Elder Abuse: A Hidden Epidemic
In 2022, the World Health Organization reported that around 1 in 6 people who are 60 years and older experienced some form of abuse in community settings during the past year, and this insidious issue comes in various forms – from physical abuse, to emotional or psychological abuse, or even as financial exploitation and neglect. This profound violation of Human Rights not only infringes the dignity of older adults but also has dire consequences for their quality of life. Their vulnerabilities, stemming from dependency, isolation, cognitive decline, and frailty, render them more susceptible to mistreatment and, what is particularly distressing, is that elder abuse often transpires within the supposed safety of the victim’s own home or in long-term care facilities.
Although access to healthcare is a fundamental Human Right and a cornerstone of our collective well-being, it is particularly in the context of healthcare that a considerable portion of the abuse takes place. For older adults, the obstacles to the full enjoyment of the right to healthcare may take the form of financial constraints, discriminatory practices, and the lack of geriatric-focused care, impacting not only their physical health but also having broader implications on their mental and emotional well-being, their social inclusion, and their overall quality of life.
With Candid, an information service specializing in reporting of non-profit companies, noticed that, as of 2020, less than 1% of private funds go to causes related to ageing. It appears clear how the shortcomings of the Human Rights framework seem to weight on an extremely vulnerable fringe of the population, requiring systems and administrations to integrate special services and policies to facilitate the growth of age-friendly communities, public spaces, transportation systems and housing.
Social Inclusion: Combating Loneliness and Isolation
Notwithstanding the purely structural and economic hindrances to the full enjoyment of Human Rights for older individuals, the ageing experience is further impacted by issues related to social inclusion, a less discussed but equally important aspect of the relationship between ageing and Human Rights. Loneliness and social isolation, although present among all age groups, can have dire consequences on the mental and emotional well-being of older adults who often grapple with the loss of social connections due to factors such as retirement, the passing of loved ones, or physical limitations that hinder social engagement. The absence of social interactions can lead to adverse health effects, including increased rates of depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline and, as older adults become more isolated, they are also at a higher risk of experiencing elder abuse, as there may be fewer individuals who can intervene or provide assistance. Therefore, social inclusion does not merely represent a matter of enhancing the quality of life for older adults; it is a human right and policies should be constructed to foster social participation and community integration, thus nurturing a sense of belonging and purpose in those often forgotten by political debates and party pamphlets.
Addressing the multifaceted issues faced by older adults requires a multi-faceted approach, and policies play a pivotal role in safeguarding their rights and ensuring their well-being. For instance, governments should develop and implement comprehensive elder abuse prevention programs that include public education, support for caregivers, and improved reporting mechanisms.
As we journey through life, we must not forget that we are all ageing, and we aspire to age with dignity and respect. It is, therefore, our collective responsibility to ensure that older adults have the support, care, and protection they need to embrace their later years with grace and fulfilment. To secure the rights of older adults, advocacy for change must occur at individual, community, and policy levels. Our world is ageing, and it is incumbent upon us to create a more inclusive and equitable society. As we stand at the intersection of these critical issues, it is not merely a call to action; it is a call to compassion, to understanding, and to solidarity.