Aging can be stressful for those affected and their families. One contact point is the Independent Complaints Office for Old Age (UBA), a non-profit association that campaigns against domestic violence, abuse and for a life free of violence in old age. The numbers make you sit up and take notice: 75 percent of the reported cases take place in the home. 25 percent takes place in institutions.
Director of the Independent Complaints Board for Old Age
Ruth Mettler has been the head of the office of the Independent Complaints Board for Old Age for seven years. The office is in Zurich and is responsible for all of German-speaking Switzerland. Ruth Mettler lives in the canton of Thurgau.
SRF News: Last year there were over 500 complaints. Is it physical violence?
Ruth Mettler: 23 percent of all conflict cases that we receive involve violence. We distinguish between physical, psychological and financial violence as well as drug abuse or violations of fundamental rights, but also sexualized violence.
More than 300,000 people over the age of 60 are affected by violence every year. Do you have specific cases?
A neighbor watches as a son chases his elderly mother across the zebra crossing or chokes her at home. Then there are clarifications. If others see something similar, we will inform the police. In this case, the police were already informed. Each time the mother said she was fine. However, we know that she could not remember the incidents. We immediately looked for a home for the mother.
Do you have an explanation for domestic violence among family members?
When it comes to support and care, someone can reach their limits. You don’t think about what you’re getting yourself into. We say: You have to talk about the situation. Perhaps the care can be spread over several shoulders, especially in the case of relatives of dementia patients.
Are you also trying to be therapeutic?
In the case described, we made sure that the son was able to visit his mother again. A relationship already existed, even if it was bad. The son was unaware of what he was doing. The mother was still happy as long as she still recognized the son. In such cases, we see that a helper network can be set up in case processing.
The person in need of care can also use violence.
It is better if we can take preventive action. When the spiral of violence begins to turn and the caregiver realizes: Now I’m being unfair. But there is also the opposite case, that the person in need of care uses violence. This is common, but rarely reported.
Is there also violence among older people?
Yes, among partners or in institutions. There, however, several people pay attention to it and they are more trained to defuse the situation. In the home, people are often on their own.
This is how the pandemic affected the number of cases
During the pandemic, they mainly received questions about the ban on visiting or the curfew, says Ruth Mettler. “A lot happened behind closed doors.” Older people would have the mantra “Stay at home!” taken very seriously. Mettler continues: “We find that mental problems, delusions or psychoses have increased.”
What can solutions for those affected look like?
For example, the helper network can be initiated or the Spitex can be called. Our specialists are often retired and work voluntarily. These are doctors, former nurses, former home managers or lawyers and mediators. They are very often already on an equal footing with those affected. Our contributors are trained on aging, clinical pictures or domestic violence. Because they are already retired themselves, they know about the problems.
The wish that there would be no more violence in old age would be pious. What advice do you have for those affected?
To open up, to confide in someone you know well. Tell us what happens, report to the UBA. This can also be done anonymously. I also recommend the carers to get in touch and tell those around them that they are running out of energy.
Christian Masina conducted the interview.