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Improving the Treatment of Older Persons in Society

Through her social services background, Joyette has gained insight into social issues affecting people and possible interventions to be mad.

Author's mother

Author's mother

Definition of Older Persons

The World Health Organization gives the following definition of an older person:

"Most developed world countries have accepted the chronological age of 65 years as a definition of 'elderly' or older person, but like many westernized concepts, this does not adapt well to the situation in Africa." —P. Kowal and JE Dowd

The Value of Older Persons

The older persons of a country are a very valuable asset, for within them lies its history; they are repositories of wisdom, experience and lessons to be handed down. Moreover, older persons have given their time and service to their countries in different aspects of national development within their various capacities and have therefore earned the right to total respect and consideration from every citizen in their declining years.

The protection and welfare of older persons is the responsibility of every citizen of a country. Collectively, citizens must ensure that the elderly enjoy the benefits of a peaceful and gracious retirement and that they spend their waning years in a respectful and dignified environment which is befitting of their age and the contributions they have made to the development of their country.

The Rights of Older Persons

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the proportion of people aged over 60 years, in almost every country, is growing faster than any other age group as a result of both longer life expectancy and declining fertility rates. Further, research has indicated that by 2050 there will be more people over the age of 60 years globally than children. This poses a challenge to world societies to adapt to this phenomenon so as to take full advantage of the health and functional capabilities of older people as well as to ensure their security and full participation in society.

In this context of rapid population ageing and other social, political and economic factors, attention has, in recent years, been focused on the need for an international convention on the rights of older persons as a timely and vital instrument for protecting the human rights of older persons as, presently, there is no binding international instrument dedicated to the human rights of older persons.

The issue of the rights of older persons is linked to the broader issue of human rights. Human rights are universal encompassing everyone regardless of age or other factors and as such older persons are entitled to all human rights and fundamental freedoms that other world citizens enjoy. Some issues which represent an infringement on the rights of older persons over the past decades are ageism/ discrimination, poverty and abuse.

Ageism/Age Discrimination

Ageism is stereotyping and prejudice against older people that can lead to discrimination. It is often used synonymously with age discrimination.

Age discrimination is the act of treating persons significantly differently because of their age. It also includes denying older persons equality of participation in society. It is prevalent in countries across the globe and is practiced at every level—the family, the community, the workplace and the wider society. In fact, until recently, it has traditionally been accepted as the norm.

Examples of These Issues

Some examples of ageism/age discrimination include:

  • Being denied a job for which you are well qualified on the grounds that you are too old.
  • Being laid off the job or forced to retire by a certain age.
  • Being refused insurance coverage because your age makes the risk too high.
  • Being refused interest-free credit.
  • Being denied membership in certain groups, clubs or organizations which have age limits.
  • Being denied referrals to health care providers.
  • Receiving shabby treatment at service establishments.


Older persons may be reduced to poverty as a result of discrimination which impacts their ability to earn an income, access benefits or take advantage of opportunities intended for their well-being. For example, very often, older persons are recipients of remittances and gifts from family members overseas, or monies in the form of Social Security/National Insurance payments or public assistance which they never see. These monies are collected on behalf of the elderly by family members or caregivers who put the monies to their own personal use. Sometimes, elderly persons are forced to sign over monies and property to caregivers who threaten to withhold care if they do not comply.

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Elder Abuse

This refers to any act—intentional or negligent—on the part of someone trusted, that exposes a vulnerable adult to harm or a serious risk of harm. A very widely used definition is one established by Action on Elder Abuse (AEA) and which was adopted by leading organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO):

“A single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person”.

Types of Abuse

Abuse can occur anywhere and can take varied forms. The five most common types of abuse are physical, emotional, sexual, neglect, abandonment, and exploitation. Every older person is potentially a victim of elder abuse in any of these forms.

  • Physical Abuse/Violence: Inflicting physical pain or bodily injury on an elderly person. For e.g. slapping, beating, bruising, or restraining by administering chemicals such as injections, sedatives and harsh medications.
  • Emotional Abuse: Causing distress, anguish or torment for an elder person. For e.g. through, intimidation, threat or humiliation.
  • Sexual Abuse: Having non-consensual sexual contact with an elderly.
  • Neglect: Failing to provide an elder with basic necessities such as food, shelter, care and protection.
  • Abandonment: Deserting a vulnerable elder for whom one has assumed responsibility.
  • Exploitation: Taking advantage of one’s position as caretaker, relative or friend to misuse the finances, property, or assets of an elder.

In recent years the perception of elder abuse as a social problem has become a growing concern in world societies. This new perception augurs well for older persons as it places the issue of elder abuse on an equal footing with others social issues affecting human rights. Perhaps the first step toward eradicating elder abuse is heightened public awareness of its occurrence and recognition of the fact that no one, regardless of age, should be subjected to abuse since it is a violation of their basic human rights.

Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that everyone has the right to security and a ‘standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family’. This includes elder persons in society. Public awareness and acceptance of these facts are therefore key to creating a change in social attitude toward the treatment of older persons.

Give Your View on Elder Abuse

In Dominica, advances have been made in addressing these human rights issues affecting the elderly through a number of government initiatives. For example, Government pays an annual subvention to institutions providing care for the elderly. Additionally, there are Government run programmes which are responsible for the well-being of the elderly. These include the following:

  • The Yes We Care Programme which provides care for elderly persons within their own homes;
  • The Public Assistance Programme which provides a monthly stipend to needy persons including the elderly;
  • The Centenarian Programme which gives official recognition to all citizens who have attained the age of 100 years and provides a monthly stipend towards their care and comfort;
  • And the Non-Contributory Social Pension Assistance for nationals seventy years and over which provides a variable stipend to augment whatever benefits are already being received by the elder.

I believe that as a developing country, Dominica has been very proactive in matters related to the welfare of the elderly.

Members of the DCOA

Members of the DCOA

The Dominica Council on Ageing

Government’s efforts are complemented by that of the Dominica Council on Ageing (DCOA). This is the principal organization responsible for representing the interests of the elderly in Dominica and the umbrella organization for all other groups and organizations for the elderly. The DCOA looks into issues which affect older persons both negatively and positively; they organize social and educational activities for their members and make representation to Government on all matters affecting the elderly. Moreover, they are affiliated with regional and international organizations dealing with older persons.

Care for the Elderly Is a Moral Obligation

The care and protection of the elderly is the moral obligation of all of us who have not yet attained older persons status. It is our duty to love and cherish our senior citizens for we owe them a debt of gratitude for the foundations which they have laid for us and for generations to come. Even today, while they are no longer actively involved in nation building we have their wisdom and experience from which to draw inspiration and we can still look to them for guidance in important matters. Let us honor them.

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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2016 Joyette Helen Fabien

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