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Violence towards the Elderly and
Discrimination against Elderly People

              I.      Foreword

           II.      Violence towards the elderly in their personal lives

a.       Domestic environment

b.      Old people’s homes and nursing homes / hospitals

         III.      Discrimination against the elderly in society

a.       World of work

b.      Involvement in society

c.       Safety

d.      Dealing with new technologies

        IV.      Conclusion

I. Foreword

Violence is present in every act of commission or omission which is levelled against the life, the physical or psychological integrity or the freedom of a person or which seriously hinders the development of the person. (Council of Europe)

Unscrupulous individualism, which seeks only one’s own interests and leaves no room for the common good or for solidarity, threatens the ethical foundations of our community. One is frequently even given the impression that the individual is behaving in a detrimental way to society by living a long life!

It must not be forgotten, however, that it was the older generation who worked hard to create the basis for the prosperity of the younger generation. They are entitled to retirement benefits and deserve to be held in high regard by society. Social security for older people is not an act of charity or grace which can be made available at will. Social security benefits for the elderly are fitting compensation for their own prior input advanced in the context of solidarity across the generations. 

In real terms this is not taken account of by society, where many and diverse forms of discrimination and use of violence against the elderly determine the picture. This must be changed in view of the unsatisfactory actual situation in all the member states of the European Union – a laborious and a particularly time-consuming process such that it requires a pace-maker in the figurative sense by way of compelling legislative guidelines.

In seeking to make its own contribution towards this end, the European Senior Citizens’ Union not only intends to focus on this topic in its work but also to put concrete demands for action to the European People’s Party, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the competent national political bodies.

II. Violence towards the elderly in their personal lives

a. Domestic environment

In its many and diverse forms, violence is essentially a phenomenon both in historical terms and in today’s society. Difficult as they are to comprehend, the forms of violence against the elderly are nevertheless virulent.

It also includes unconsciously committed forms of violence and discrimination which contravene agreements founded on the rule of law.

The spectrum of violence ranges from neglect and psychological ill-treatment, financial exploitation and restriction of freedom right through to physical violence.

Violence often occurs in close social or private relationships. Elderly people rarely report violence in the family and this results in a correspondingly high number of unrecorded cases.

Not only does the European Senior Citizens’ Union want to denounce this deplorable state of affairs, but it also wants to achieve rapid changes. This requires clear and decisive action from all those responsible:

  • Anyone who wants to protect senior citizens from violence must grant elderly people the independence to determine their own life environment. Appropriate offers of help must be provided.
  • In order to prevent social isolation a graduated, local and interlinked system of help must be developed.
  • Elderly people must not be deprived of the right of decision by an overweening and an often unwelcome style of care, because this deprivation of the right of decision frequently leads to senior citizens’ being treated as mere objects and not being regarded as people with rights and obligations of their own.
  • It is essential that doctors, carers, statutory social workers, friends, neighbours and family members are made aware of the issue of violence, and that the latter are offered help in overcoming situations of violence.
  • There must be an appropriate health service and psychological care in old age, which does not allow anyone to be discriminated against on the grounds of inhumane cost-benefit analyses. This also includes an efficient care infrastructure with qualified staff and the realisation that outpatient care precedes in-patient treatment.
  • In the context of care violence is expressed in physical and psychological injuries but also in the omission of help and in neglect.
  • In the private sphere it can be connected with excessive demands on carers (stress from work, family, illness, etc.) with the result that the violence frequently happens behind “closed doors” and can therefore only be ascertained with difficulty.
  • Politics and society must therefore do everything possible to reinforce the framework conditions for an active ageing process. The highest precept ought to be, ‘Neediness in old age shall not lead to poverty and social exclusion’.
  • Laws punishing every act of violence against the elderly are to be pursued – insofar as this has not already been done – in all EU member states in both criminal and civil law, taking into account the weaker position of older people, especially those who are physically or mentally infirm.
  • Elderly people must be informed about their rights. Should the case arise, they must have access to legal aid.

b. Old people’s homes and nursing homes / hospitals

The maxim, human dignity is inviolable, also applies in old people’s homes, nursing homes and hospitals.

Moving into an old people’s home or a nursing home must be an autonomous decision on the part of the person concerned. There must be no physical or psychological use of violence, no violation of privacy, no inappropriate medical care or supply of medicine and no financial exploitation.

As a general principle particular attention must be paid to the health care of elderly people who are restricted in their daily tasks.

Those living in residential care homes must be granted increased rights of participation. 

Management training and qualification, quality development measures related to institutions, supervision and further development of relevant advanced training must be guaranteed.

Supervision of old people's homes and nursing homes must ensure that all statutory requirements are met and that no acts of physical or mental abuse against elderly people are committed.

III. Discrimination against the elderly in society

Every form of discrimination can be accompanied by physical and/or psychological violence. Therefore some areas are listed here:

a. World of work:

Any age barrier or restriction of activities imposed upon pensioners must be reviewed,

people must not be forced to take early retirement,

there should be a review of age limits for appointments, promotion and further training,

age discrimination in respect of the holding of public offices and parliamentary seats is not permissible.

b. Involvement in society:

Restrictions to mobility caused by inappropriate regulations affecting elderly people and by a lack of public transport facilities must be eliminated as their effects on lifelong learning, travelling, leisure, culture and sport seriously diminish quality of life for the elderly.

It is important both for the society in common and for the elderly as group that the political life is open for them.

c. Safety:

The vitally important safety and the protection of elderly people

  • in traffic,
  • from use of violence,
  • from mugging and burglary,
  • from financial defrauding

must be safeguarded.

d. Dealing with new technologies:

It is a matter of silencing the dictates of the new technologies, since many and diverse barriers are erected by the technological revolution in everyday life. 

In order to enable elderly people to participate in modern ways of life, they must be given the opportunity to learn how to handle the new technologies (computers, mobile telephones, Internet).

IV. Conclusion

If we allow all of this to take root in our consciousness, that a person’s real age is not the one written in his passport but the one expressed in what he does and who he is, then we will have made a great step forward and one which will be the foundation for a humane and dignified encounter with elderly people in their respective social environments.

We therefore call upon both the European Parliament and the European Commission to induce the member states of the EU within four years to adopt the necessary laws to protect the rights of elderly people and to safeguard without restriction their participation in society.