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Angels battling abuse of elderly

Wednesday, January 10 2007

WE ALL have heard of the horror stories in some of our homes for the elderly that are not properly managed. Elder abuse — the mistreatment of an elderly person by someone known or unknown to the senior — takes many forms. This includes financial abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. Financial abuse can also be a criminal offense if theft or embezzlement or filing forged documents are involved.

There are few services and programmes available that promote the positive mental and general wellbeing of our senior citizens, such as the SEAN (Stop Elder Abuse Now) Programme. SEAN was developed four years ago in an attempt to stem the growing tide of elder abuse in Trinidad and Tobago.

Noeline Husbands, programme coordinator at SEAN, said, “There are many complaints about specific homes where the elderly are mistreated. People are living older and as people get older they get more vulnerable to abuse. SEAN is a voice to advocate against the abuse of the elderly,” she said.

“It is not an easy task to take care of the elderly. It is a matter of human rights, ensuring they get their fair share of resources.” Husbands recalled a case where an elderly woman signed over her property to her son.

As a result, her other children turned against her and began to mistreat her. “We have received several reports of pensioners being cheated out of their own homes by relatives,” she said.

The programme trains volunteers called SEAN’s Angels, who are allocated to homes all around Trinidad and Tobago. Husbands observed a major problem among the elderly — a lack of stimulation. “There are not many activities for the elderly to do. Most times they just sit and wait for the next meal,” she said.

There are more than 130 nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities throughout Trinidad that are designed for seniors in need of 24-hour care. Nursing facilities provide many of the same residential components of other senior care options, including personal care, supervision and many offer other types of therapy for the elderly. Husbands said the programme, which began with a projection to train 150 volunteers, has been very effective. “We have established a strong relationship with the Home Owner’s Association,” she said. The projection is to have SEAN Angels provide companionship to residents of homes as well as to people living in their own homes in the community. The benefits are not one-way — the lives of our volunteers have also been significantly impacted,” she said.

According to Husbands, psychological and emotional abuse is perhaps the greatest area of prejudice in Trinidad and Tobago against the elderly, who are increasingly seen as useless, senile and not worth speaking to, listening to, or being concerned about.

In most cases, taxis and other forms of public transport often refuse to pick them up, sales clerks refuse to serve them, they are ignored by clerks in Government offices, and generally treated as non-persons unless accompanied by someone younger.

There have been cases where physical harm, including refusal to give out medicines in some homes for the elderly where there is no Government supervision or inspection, have been reported.

These issues have influenced the development of other programmes and activities such as the SEAN Project funded by the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). This project seeks to provide secondary school students with the skills to successfully interact with older people. “This project equips youngsters with the necessary training and skills in the form of a workshop, which is geared towards projecting a positive image of older people.

“We take the children into various homes for the elderly where the older people tell their life stories and youths observe how to care for elders and they can learn values of long ago” Husbands said.

At the end of the project, the teenagers showcase what was done via drama, song writing and dance, where both elderly and young participate.

The SEAN Link Project ends on January 31, but because of funding, it may not be possible for the project to continue. “The aim is to create a DVD that will continue the advocacy against elders abuse.”

To volunteer for the companion training programme or to support the work of the SEAN Programme/Project, contact the Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 642-0402.

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