Update: 13.03.2009

Violence against the elderly: still a taboo subject

In early 2009, the media reported several cases of mistreatment of, and discrimination against, the elderly. In the «Entlisberg Case», five care workers at a nursing home near Zurich were accused of abusing dementia patients by stealing from them, assaulting them and even filming them naked. Not only does this reflect how Switzerland is struggling to cope with the rising number of elderly people, but it also illustrates the fact that discussing the ill-treatment of the elderly remains taboo.

Most cases happen at home

In reality, most violence, and other discriminating and abusive behaviour towards the elderly, remains undiscovered. It tends to happen in the home and is hidden by families. According to Dr. Albert Wettstein, head doctor of the town of Zurich, up to 70,000 cases of violence against the elderly occurred in Switzerland in 2008.

Stressful situations

In an interview with the «Tagesanzeiger»on 1 March 2009, Dr. Roland Kunz, another successful Zurich doctor, highlighted that such incidents occur mostly because of the constant stress placed on family members and/or care staff. Often, both family members and professionals are afraid to ask for support.  Elderly patients suffering from dementia demand a particularly large physical and emotional commitment. When family members or care workers are over burdened, this can become too difficult to handle and can lead to violence and discrimination.

Weak working conditions in the care sector

Working conditions and salaries often do not reflect the difficult and demanding working environment. Markus Leser of Curaviva, the association of Swiss social institutions, denies the accusation that nursing homes employ incompetent personnel in order to save money. «In any case, people will be let go if it turns out they have the wrong character or lack of aptitude for this demanding job» he said during an interview with swissinfo. Reacting to the «Entlisberg Case», the Swiss Nurses Association declared on 25 February 2009, that care workers are not always adequately trained to face complex care situations with very old, vulnerable and dependant residents.

Soon a staff shortage?

While some are concerned about the current situation, others warn that it is not about to improve in the next ten years. The Swiss Federal Statistical Office estimates a 34 percent growth of the aged 65 population by 2020. A study led by the Swiss Health Observatory forecasts, by this date, a need for an increase in qualified personnel of at least 25,000 .

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