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Ageing with dignity – protecting the elderly from abuse - 17/03/2008

Elderly man in wheel chair alone in institutional surroundings – with dog by his side

Elderly people are entitled to protection from abuse, believed to be widespread. EU conference airs uncomfortable truths and demands better care.

We all face the prospect of depending on others to take care of us in our old age. How confident are we that we won't suffer neglect or abuse when we're most vulnerable to it?

As things stand, many of us don't feel too sure - a recent EU poll showed 47% feel abuse of the elderly is widespread in their countries. Now the EU is tackling the issue head on.

This week's EU conference on abuse of the elderly brings together experts and policy makers to raise awareness and trigger an open debate that faces up to uncomfortable truths.

In some cases, abuse is deliberate – adults extorting money from their elderly parents or homes overusing tranquilisers. But most abuse takes the form of neglect, when carers don't have the resources to do their job properly or simply can’t cope.

With forecasts putting 12% of the population in the 80+ age bracket by 2050, more and more people will depend on relatives or professionals to meet their care needs. EU action in public health policy seeks to tackle some of the issues facing our ageing population.

"Member states are starting to support carers and relatives better through training and guidance", explained social affairs commissioner, Vladimír Špidla, ahead of the conference. He argued that care for the elderly should be covered by human rights legislation, and welcomed the support groups and telephone hotlines set up to curb abuse.

Experts reckon that public debate on abuse and neglect of the aged is where the debate on child abuse was twenty or thirty years ago – we are just starting to talk about it. The hope is to move it up the political agenda in the same way.

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