Retired psychiatrist Dr Ermine Belle is calling for greater sensitivity on the part of those responsible for providing care for the elderly, even though she points out that not all abuse is intentional.
Speaking against the backdrop of “widespread psychological abuse” of the elderly, the retired consultant at the Psychiatric Hospital warned that long hours of work and burn out were recipes for such worrying abuse.
“So if we can recognize that and address it, it will go a long way in helping persons who do it, not intentionally, but actually abuse persons,” Belle said.
She spoke this week on a panel discussion on elderly abuse, held in Queen’s Park, The City, at which the retired Director of the National Assistance Board, Reverend Clayton Springer, also raised concern about inadequate legal provisions to protect the rights of the elderly.
However, attorney-at-law Steve Gollop argued that even though many of the changes prescribed in a now 18-year-old White Paper on elderly abuse were yet to be enacted, the island’s elderly still enjoyed the necessary protection under the Offences Against the Persons Act.
He therefore cautioned Barbadians against engaging in any knee-jerk reaction to the scourge of elderly abuse, adding that clear thought must be given to the drafting of any new legislation.
During his presentation, the senior pastor in the Wesleyan Holiness Church, also noted that many of the island’s senior citizens lived alone, while pointing to recent research done in the United States, which shows that isolation of the elderly is deadlier than physical disease.
Apart from loneliness, Springer also said older persons were concerned about increased dependency on others; death and dying; loss of memory and its impact; fear of change in the environment; social isolation and loss of peers and disillusionment with life, despair and disappointments.
Therefore, he called for the elderly to be treated with respect and for more attention to be paid to their needs, even as he acknowledged that churches were already assisting the elderly in communities across the island.
Wednesday’s panel discussion came against the backdrop of a video, which went viral last month triggering public rage. It showed a helpless 84-year-old, Jasmine Hall, being kicked, beaten and insulted by her caregiver.
That matter is now before the court.
However, officials saying the incidence of mistreatment of the island’s elderly is much higher than the reported case at the Roseville Home in Christ Church and they are contending that persons in their twilight years must be handled with honour and respect, which includes the absence of physical or verbal abuse.
Speaking on behalf of the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF), Inspector Stephen Griffith voiced strong concern about under-reporting of elderly abuse.
He also assured that the RBPF stands ready to prosecute anyone charged with such abuse.
“We want to work together with all departments, all communities, all organizations, to help people in whatever area of disability that afflict them. Therefore we want to say, report the matters to us, let us do our work the legislation is there and we will continue to work with all communities,” Griffith said.