Someone slipped into a Philadelphia nursing home last week and cut the feeding tubes of six unconscious patients aged between about 40 and 80. Fortunately the leaking tubes were discovered soon after and none of the victims' lives was actually endangered. The barbaric" act -- in the words of local police -- was just one incident in what a study published this week in The Lancet calls the pervasive and growing problem" of elder abuse.
Researchers from Cornell University estimate that the rate of elder abuse is probably between 2% and 10% and that people who have been mistreated are over three times more likely to die within three years compared with those who are not abused.
The Lancet's editorial concludes that "elderly people should not be seen as marginalised victims in society but as fully participating and valuable citizens. Anything less is inhumane and unsustainable."
However, these fine sentiments may be difficult to support. By the year 2050, the proportion of people over 65 will double in most countries. For example, an estimated 29% of the population in Europe and 18% in Asia will be 65 years or older. "This shift in demographics," says The Lancet, "is likely to weaken traditional respect for elderly people and family-based systems for providing old-age care and support, making elderly people vulnerable to ill- treatment and abuse by carers and society as a whole."
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