Abuse and violence against older persons with dementia is a human rights violation that must be stopped

Abuse and violence against older persons with dementia is a human rights violation that must be stopped

18 June 2018

Dr. Dennis Bortey, president of the Alzheimer’s and Related Disorder Association of Ghana (Alzheimer’s Ghana) today spoke at a side event to the 38th Session of the Human Rights Council.

Dr. Bortey joined the Global Alzheimer’s & Dementia Action Alliance (GADAA) in championing the cause of older persons stigmatised and denied their human rights because of their dementia. Alzheimer’s Ghana is a member of Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), the worldwide federation of Alzheimer associations, which support people with dementia and their families globally.

Speaking via video at the side event organised by GADAA member the NGO Committee on Ageing to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (15 June), Dr. Bortey highlighted the lack of awareness that leads to abuse and even violence against older persons with dementia.

Dr. Bortey called on the Human Rights Council and all UN Member States, as well as international civil society, to say enough to the violence and human rights abuse due to misconceptions of dementia.

Other participants in the Side Event included:

  • HE Ambassador Carlos Foradori, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Argentina to the UN in Geneva.
  • Beatriz Balbin, Chief of the Special Procedures Branch, OHCHR.
  • Rosa Kornfeld Matte, Independent Expert on the rights of older persons (via message).
  • HE Ambassador Tomaž Mencin, Deputy Permanent representative, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Slovenia to the UN in Geneva.

The Side Event was also supported by GADAA members HelpAge International, Age International and the International Longevity Centre Global Alliance.

Addressing the Side Event in Geneva today Dr. Bortey stated:

“When are we going to stop beating people, stigmatising them because they have lost memory? It is of no fault of theirs. It is time that we sit as a world to say that for the 50 million people who are suffering from dementia, they still deserve a good life, they still deserve care, they still deserve compassion, and they have rights just like any other human being.”

Watch Dr. Bortey’s intervention before the side event:

Read a transcript of Dr. Bortey’s intervention here.

For too many years dementia has been dismissed as a natural part of ageing. It’s not. Dementia is a global health priority. 50 million people around the world are living with the condition, the equivalent of a new case every three seconds. Global diagnosis rates are low, people are receiving sub-standard or no care and as Dr. Borety notes, stigma remains widespread:

“[In Ghana]… awareness about dementia is so low that many people are abused, many people are stigmatised, and some are even killed because of this disease called dementia, which actually is not a normal part of ageing.”

Older women with dementia can be particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. Women with dementia across the world report being mistreated, assaulted, have their assets seized, accused of witchcraft and even murdered all due to the combination of their condition and gender.

Through awareness raising programmes across the country, Alzheimer’s Ghana, supported by ADI, has started to break down prejudices. Globally there is also growing recognition of the scale of the problem, exemplified by the adoption of the World Health Organisation’s recent Global Action Plan on Dementia.

Yet Dr. Bortey highlights there is still much work to do:

“[I]t’s time that we let our governments sit up to say that enough of the abuse, enough of the torture, enough of the killing, enough of the beating of our elderly people because they are suffering from forgetfulness.”

To end violence and rights violations against older persons with dementia, awareness is vital – communities must recognise that dementia is a medical condition. Those living with the condition must continue to have their rights respected and protected. 

Governments and international civil society actors around the world must now get behind this global human rights challenge and unite for a world where no older person faces violence because of their dementia. Dementia is a global health and human rights issue that can no longer be ignored.

To mark this month’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, take action to get it right for every older person affected by dementia around the world:

Join the Global Alzheimer’s & Dementia Action Alliance: gadaalliance.org/join

Read more: Alzheimer’s Ghana profile