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Prevention of Elder Abuse

Introduction

Traditional Chinese culture puts great emphasis on filial piety. However, social changes in recent years have posed challenges to these ethical and moral principles on Chinese family relationships, and this may have led to the increasing rate of elder abuse and family violence.

Definition of Elder Abuse

In Hong Kong, according to the protocol issued by the Social Welfare Department in Dec. 2003, elder abuse refers to any action or behavior by someone which causes harm and endangers the safety to an elder. This includes the following aspects:

  1. Physical abuse – any act of physical assault which could impair the health of the elder.
  2. Psychological abuse – any act which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity or self-worth of the elderly persons. Such acts include verbal aggression, humiliation, isolation, intimidation, threats, and inappropriate control of activities.
  3. Sexual abuse – any act which involves unwanted or forcible touching/activity of a sexual nature.
  4. Neglect – intentional or unintentional failure or refusal to provide for the basic needs (e.g., food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and safety).
  5. Financial abuse – any act which involves the misuse of an elder's fund, properties and assets. Such acts include obtaining money or property without the person's knowledge or consent or by using undue influence.
  6. Abandonment – any act which the care-givers fail to provide suitable care and supervision to or desert an elder without reasonable causes.

Major causes of elder abuse

The causes of abuse are multi-factorial:

  • Abuser factors: unhealthy behaviors (e.g., substance abuse, alcoholic, gambling, personality problems and mental/emotional problems), dependent on the victim for financial resources, greediness (which is especially common in case of financial abuse), and burnt out from care-giving stress.
  • Familial factors: poor communication, use of violence in problem solving, poor living conditions.
  • Societal/economic factors: economic recession, unemployment, loss of job security and negative equity.

Prevention and intervention strategies for elder abuse

The problem would not disappear by itself if it is just tolerated.

  • Suggestions for self and mutual help for elders
  • Crisis intervention
    • Stay calm, do not argue with the abuser
    • Dial 999 for immediate help, especially if there is physical injury
    • Seek help from neighbors
    • Bring identity documentation, some money and needed medication to a relative's home for temporary stay
    • Share feelings with a trusted person
    • Seek help from social services/organizations for temporary shelter, if necessary (please refer to "Community resources" for detail)
  • Understand personal rights and increase awareness for elder abusive behaviors
  • Strengthen problem-solving abilities to life events (e.g., learn how to manage own funds and properties)
  • Enlarge social network
  • Seek help from community resources and share with a trusted person when problems are encountered
  • Family members and care-givers
    • Establish good communication with the elders; avoid unrealistic expectation on one's or the elder's mental and physical abilities
    • Show acceptance to the elder's feeling and provide emotional support
    • Maintain and enhance optimal physical health
    • Use positive coping strategies for mood management (e.g., maintain appropriate level of physical activities, listen to music), and share feelings with family and friends for emotional ventilation
    • Learn care-giving skills in order to alleviate the caring burden
    • Share the care-giving work with others and seek community resources for support
    • Proper staff training, supervision and monitoring
    • Promote public education on respect and care for elders

Community Resources

To provide the best support to those being abused and in crisis, we should promote and develop the mutual-support service and seek help from professionals when necessary.

Name of Social Organizations / Agencies Tel. No.
Social Welfare Department (Hotline for inquiry) 2343 2255
The Haven of Hope Christian Service (Elderly Protection Centre) (Hong Kong and Kowloon East) 2915 8888
Christian Family Service Centre 2787 6865
Caritas Family Crisis Support Centre 18288
CEASE Crisis Centre 24-hour Hotline 18281