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Posted: 13 June 2008

Community care nurses need support to act on elder abuse in the home

International statistics indicate that elder abuse affects 2-5% of older people in their own home. In Ireland, this translates to between 11,500 and 21,000 older people being abused in their own home.

Elder abuse is a serious issue for Irish society today. It can take place in the home or outside the home; in residential care, day centres and in the community.

Elder abuse takes many forms including physical, financial, sexual, psychological and emotional. Ageism - the devaluing of older people due to their age – plays a significant role in the acceptance of elder abuse in society.

According to a new study of attitudes of community nurses (public health nurses and registered general nurses in the community) to elder abuse, many have come across cases of elder abuse but feel helpless to intervene due inadequate knowledge and a lack of support services.

They also consider that elder abuse issues in the home are outside of the scope of their authority and beyond their nursing care relationship with the older people they serve during the course of their professional activities.

“Community care nurses see the family as a ‘secret’ entity which they can not truly know,” says Amanda Phelan, a lecturer at the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, who conducted the research for her PhD. “Many feel helpless to intervene in elder abuse issues due to the self-determination of older persons and their families.”

“Community nurses also consider elder abuse as closely related to dependency,” says Amanda. “And abuse is not readily observed within a family and older people may not be able to disclose the abuse as it is often perpetrated by a family member.”

“Intervening in elder abuse can be a delicate situation, particularly if the older person does not want any intervention and any intervention can also be disrupted by the perpetrator. When abused, an older person may be faced with the single option of having to live in a nursing home as the perpetrator is their primary caregiver.”

In the course of the research, Amanda conducted in-depth interviews with 18 community nurses with an older person caseload and who worked with older people for more than two years.

The research findings were presented for the first time at a conference at UCD on 13 June 2008 to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2008.

The Minister for Finance, Mr Brian Lenihan TD, who addressed the conference, spoke of the importance of tackling elder abuse issues and also abuse experienced by other vulnerable groups within Irish society.

The Department of Health and Children has recently awarded the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems support to establish a National Centre for the Protection of Elderly People. The Centre will focus on a programme of research examining elder abuse in Ireland which will inform the development of policy and practice in relation to elder abuse.

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Community care nurses need support to act on elder abuse in the home