By Hourglass’ CEO Richard Robinson.
Sadly, the abuse of older people is not a new issue, but one that has now reached a critical threshold that can no longer be ignored, nor tolerated. Last week an ITV Tonight documentary on coercive control, showed the horrifying impact the emotional abuse of a partner can have on lives. One that involves threats, manipulation, and isolating people from loved ones, which all has devastating impacts; impacts that can become even more complex when a victim is older.
For some older victims of psychological abuse they find themselves as the main carer for the person abusing them. For others, fluctuating mental capacity means that perpetrators can take control of people’s decisions and lives and the dependence and loss of confidence can become even more complex and difficult to acknowledge and address.
More than a million older people in the UK are subject to abuse every year yet there is barely any specialist help available to support them. With the number of people living longer with dementia and physical disability set to increase, we’re raising the alarm that coercive control later in life will also continue to rise.
Here at Hourglass, the only UK charity dedicated to tackling the abuse and neglect of older people, we’re calling for a commitment to radically increasing the specialised support to help older people experiencing abuse. A recent study we conducted found that the abuse of older people comes last in line for government and the public alike. Stark findings show that those in power, responsible for safeguarding, have given no mention of abuse towards older people across 2021, even after living through a pandemic. We urgently need to push the issue forward from last in line and offer older victims and their loved ones the support they need.
So what are the specialist services we need? A service that we are already seeing success with, in local areas across the UK, is our specialist older person IDVA (Independent Domestic Violence Advocates) scheme. Older victims of domestic abuse get support from trained IDVA’s who specialise in working with those over 65. The support workers provide tailored support and advice to victims in a range of circumstances from people who have been in abusive relationships for decades to those being abused and exploited by family members.
20% of people in the UK are impacted by the abuse of older people. We want to see practitioners and designated people within frontline services with expert knowledge in the nuances of dealing with older victims. At Hourglass we offer training to frontline workers such as the police, NHS and social care workers to be able to spot the signs and be able to address the unique barriers. For example, older people have a greater fear of being institutionalised and sent ‘to a care home’ this is a barrier to speaking out, they may have fluctuating mental capacity and different levels of tolerance – something may have been socially acceptable 60 years ago but it’s not now. It’s so important that our frontline services are properly trained
This isn’t about growing old gracefully. This is about living safely. Safer ageing is about creating environments and procedures so that older people are not put at risk of abuse or neglect. Just as crucially: it’s about empowering older people so they can, where suitable, live their lives independently and fully trust those people around them. So let’s take a hard look at our procedures of support and make sure they are catered to later life. By making small but significant changes we can have a huge impact to lives across the UK.