“The eyes of the world are on elder abuse today” declared Professor Elizabeth Podnicks. At the fifth annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) Conference, Podnicks highlighted what has been achieved since the day was inaugurated in New York in 2003. She has received many emails from various jurisdictions recounting the events planned to honour the cause. What are the challenges? According to Podnicks, it is to evaluate and measure the success of the various activities taking place.
Wikipedia defines elder abuse as “a general term used to describe certain types of harm to older adults”. Exactly how much is the dollar value of this definition? According to researcher Lynn McDonald, reaching consensus on a definition of elder abuse costs more than half a million dollars. Her justification is– if we cannot define it, we cannot study it, therefore, we cannot determine if our interventions are working.
CARP members polled last year about elder abuse would have to be convinced about spending that kind of money on defining elder abuse instead of supporting intervention strategies. In fact, they demonstrate a clear preference for action as opposed to more study.
One such intervention was presented by consultant and teacher Sharon MacKenzie. MacKenzie, an educator of twenty-seven years, began i2i, an organization dedicated to creating intergenerational learning opportunities.
In seven years short years, MacKenzie developed and personally implemented the oft-praised immersion model, The Meadows School Project. This involved creating a makeshift classroom in a seniors’ facility to link elders, youth, and staff through learning. MacKenzie did not come alone to the conference. She brought with her school children from across the nation who participated in a pilot project designed to raise awareness of elder abuse. The high school aged children set up projects in their communities, many involving both young preschoolers, and older adults. For example, two bright young Chinese Canadians from Markham told the crowd that coffee is the most popular beverage in Canada. This gave them the idea of placing elder abuse stats on coffee cups sold in their local cafeteria a la Starbucks. Also interesting was the fact that the students gathered data on the outcomes and effects of their activities and analyzed these findings in order to learn from their mistakes.
The Ministers responsible for seniors, the Honourable Diane Ablonczy, the Honourable Gerry Phillips (Ontario) set the tone for the conference with their formal commitment to combat elder abuse. Minister Ablonczy singled out the intergenerational initiatives for approval. The Secretary General of the International Federation of Aging added that her goal is to one day celebrate the fact that there is no need for a WEAAD.
A man at CARP’s table who works as a Resident-Client Advocate in a Toronto long term care home, remarked that all this focus on measurement often drowns out the creativity epitomized by the children’s projects. His view was echoed by an American researcher who said that awareness alone will not stop abuse and neglect,
A regional consultant working for the Ontario Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse discussed the importance of elder abuse networks. Another speaker discussed the Senior’s Safety Line which needs more promotion.