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New group aims to protect elderly from abuse

Most cases of abuse go undetected

(Keystone Archive)

A new organisation to help elderly victims of abuse or mistreatment at home or in hospital wards has been set up in Switzerland.

Alter Ego was founded by Swiss doctors and groups for the elderly, who say there is an urgent need to raise awareness of the issue of abuse - whether physical or otherwise - and to coordinate nationwide action to fight the problem, which often goes unnoticed.

"There's a lot of work to be done: we need to inform the public, carers and politicians and of course the victims themselves," Maya Olmari, a doctor from the University Hospital in Geneva and a founding member of Alter Ego, told swissinfo.

Pro Senectute, which champions the rights of the elderly, says at least five per cent of people being cared for at home or in residential institutions suffer some kind of abuse. The mistreatment ranges from physical, financial or psychological abuse to neglect in nourishment and medical care.

In Switzerland, an estimated 40 per cent of abuse cases are psychological and 15 per cent are physical.

"Physical abuse is only the top of the iceberg," says Jacques Repond, a member of Pro Senectute. "Old people are often treated like useless and incompetent children. People threaten to put them in homes or deprive them of contact with their grandchildren."

"In many cases, old people are also deprived of medicines to alleviate pain," he adds.

Family problem

Alter Ego says the highest incidence of abuse occurs at home by family members who are looking after elderly relatives.

"In ninety per cent of cases, it's a family problem which takes place behind closed doors," Olmari explains.

"Family members often don't know how to look after their relatives - they're given neither financial nor psychological support when they suddenly find themselves confronted with a patient," she says.

In Switzerland, only two to three per cent of elderly people go to residential homes, while the remainder are looked after by their families.

Alter Ego is supported by a range of national and cantonal organisations, including Pro Senectute, Leenards Foundation and the Geneva geriatric clinic.

by Vanessa Mock and Ramsey Zarifeh


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