Elder abuse is a rampant, yet severely under-reported social ill, affecting an estimated one in six persons aged 60 years and older around the globe. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is an opportunity to promote the dignity of older persons and advocate for their protection against all forms of abuse and discrimination.

The elderly routinely face prejudice, neglect and even violence at the hands of their loved ones, as well as carers in institutional settings. As global populations age and challenges to their safety and wellbeing arise, the need to create an environment conducive to their health and development becomes increasingly imperative.

Older persons have been disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus as they are more likely to have underlying conditions than other age groups and are at a higher risk of severe illness and even death when infected with Covid-19. In many hard-hit countries, they faced discrimination in receiving life-saving treatments, which were often withheld in favour of younger patients. The ageist and unfair belief that older persons are more expendable was also evident in the callous and flippant behaviour displayed by many younger people in the earlier stages of the pandemic, when the virus was believed to affect only the elderly.

Measures intended to curb the spread of the virus have the potential of adversely affecting the physical and mental health of older persons. Policies adopted by care homes to safeguard their residents from infection precluded them from receiving visitors, which often contributed to loneliness, depression and anxiety. Even where older persons were isolating at home with their families, they may have faced increased abuse and neglect fuelled by tension, stress and uncertainty resulting from job or income loss.

Our elders have always played an important role in Caribbean society—as caregivers, community leaders and homemakers—and twelve percent of our population is over the age of 60 with this number set to rise in years to come. We all have a shared responsibility to ensure that older persons feel safe, included and significant in our communities and to protect them from harm. On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2020, I encourage all individuals to recommit to ending all forms of prejudice, neglect and discrimination experienced by our senior citizens.

To report abuse or to obtain further information, citizens may contact the Older Persons Information Centre hotline at: 800 – OPIC (6742).