‘Hidden issue’: NGO brings to light abuse of Senior citizens with impaired vision

June 15, 2023 - 1:38 PM
A photo of an eye screening initiative of The Fred Hollows Foundations on September 20, 2022. (FredHollows/Facebook)

A non-government organization raised awareness on the “hidden issue” of abuse of visually impaired Senior citizens in line with a global advocacy event.

Called World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, it takes place every June 15 to help the world take action on the violence inflicted on older people.

In line with this occasion, the Fred Hollows Foundation, an Australia-based organization that advocates for accessible eye care in the world, stated that visually-impaired individuals who are aged 60 years and above are more vulnerable to different forms of abuse.

The foundation further said that one in six senior individuals experienced some form of abuse last year, citing data from the World Health Organization.

Globally, an estimated 33.6 million, or 78% of people in the 50-year-old and older age bracket are blind.

In the Philippines, Filipinos who are 60 years old and above have increased from 4.2 million in 2000 to 9.22 million in 2020, citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

No data was provided on how many of these old Pinoys have sight problems.

These findings prompted the foundation to call on more community safeguards to protect these vulnerable members of society.

In a statement, ophthalmologist Maria Victoria Rondaris, who is also the county manager of The Fred Hollows Foundation in the Philippines, explained the common challenges of elder people with sight problems.

“Elderlies with vision impairment tend to have poor eye contact, slow reaction times and they may seem to be unsure of what they need to do. This might be interpreted or misconstrued by the other person as feigning unawareness, ignorance thus leading to impatience and anger by the other person,” Rondaris said.

“It is important to strengthen awareness about this abuse for this particular population. This awareness pushes policies for prevention,” she added.

Vânia de la Fuente-Núñez, The Fred Hollows Foundation’s senior adviser for Healthy Ageing, also pointed out that discussing these “hidden” and “unique” challenges can help prevent overall elder abuse.

“It is only by shining a light on the unique challenges faced by older adults with vision impairment that we can work towards reducing the risk of elder abuse in this population group,” Núñez said.

WHO defines elder abuse as “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.”

This can be in the form of “financial, physical, psychological, sexual and neglect.”

Similar to any form of abuse, elder abuse can have severe consequences for older people.

These include depression, economic loss, physical injury, cognitive decline and even premature death.

The Fred Hollows Foundation, meanwhile, is a charity organization that continues the mission of an acclaimed eye surgeon named Professor Fred Hollows, who also champions affordable eye care and good health.