This week, a law was passed requiring anyone who discovers abuse to inform local authorities, who then will be required to investigate each case in cooperation with the police. This new law defines abuse as assault that could cause physical injury, verbal abuse, neglecting care and wrongful management of the property of the elderly. The law will become effective in April, 2006.
So, just who are these hidden victims and who is mistreating them? There were two studies conducted in 1993 and in 1997 in Japan that produced some of the answers. The victims are mostly over the age of 80 and 70% of them are women. The most common form of abuse was financial and sons most commonly perpetrated it. Somewhere between 33 to 57% of the elders were physically abused and 57% were victims of neglect.
Almost half of the elders were very dependent on their families for assistance. The highest rated cause for this abuse was stress, followed by poor relationships, particularly between older women and their daughters-in-law. A perception of a lack of appreciation for the care being provided and physical fatigue from care giving were additional reasons.
Perhaps, one of the most disturbing aspects of this study was the fact that many of the abusers believed they were entitled to the financial resources of the older person. This may be a result of the pre-World War II inheritance law that gave older people’s inheritance directly to the eldest son.
The types of abuse cited included mental abuse, willful neglect, denying food, physical beatings and tying the old people to their beds. According to a government poll, in over 54% of the cases, the alleged abusers did not recognize that they were abusing their victim, while only 24% stated that they knew what they were doing.
The elderly people often hesitate to call out for help and sometimes even try to conceal the abuse from outsiders. The reasons why they do not flee vary, but in some cases they fear their children will steal their possessions, they blame themselves for having raised such children and they feel it is their duty to stay until they die.
Last April, Japan released its first survey on elderly abuse, finding 1,991 cases. While this appears to be a small number, some experts believe the actual number may be as high as 10,000 and all experts agree that the numbers are increasing.
Elderly abuse is an international problem with Scandinavian countries reporting somewhere between 1 to 8% of the population over the age of 65 years as victims of abuse. In the United States, the percentage ranges between 4 to 10% and in Britain, it is estimated to be around 10%. In fact, in Britain this past February, the BBC launched a television drama, “Dad” in an effort to shed light on this growing problem.