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28 Jul, 2010 02:33

Hotline set up in Czech Republic to help abused seniors

Most senior Czechs arrive at care homes because they are no longer able to survive on their own. Their lives are entirely in the hands of the care givers, who sometimes appear to be careless.

Independent charities say that up to 20 per cent of elderly Czechs have been subject to abuse. They note that their country has simply failed to acknowledge the problem. The abuse is both physical and mental and it happens at home and in institutions.

“My grandmother was tied to the bed, naked and covered in her own excrement," a relative of an abused woman told RT. "She said the nurses dropped the bed under her, got angry and just left her there, telling her "to behave". When I found the chief nurse, she said my grandmother had been bad, and we could take her home if we wanted.”

Now, however, the country's first telephone hotline for the elderly, Zivot 90, seeks to change attitudes and is responding to dozens of pleas for help daily.

“When I was placed in a care home, I signed my flat over to my son. But he promised to take me to my country house during the summer months. But he didn't. When I phoned the house, some people I've never met answered, saying they have no idea who I am,” an elderly woman, who preferred not to be named, told RT.

The hotline’s founder believes that with a healthcare system inherited from the Communist regime, and pensioners who have little economic power compared to their counterparts in the West, older people will continue to suffer.

“The people working at the institutions want to decrease their workload, even if this means that the pensioners, themselves, are restricted in what they do. But the problem is wider than that. There is little concept of the rights of older people,” said director of Zivot 90, Jan Lorman.

The hotline workers say several unfortunate cases have cast a shadow on a difficult profession. Recent laws have introduced more independent care assessments and have penalized the worst care homes.

“Things are not nearly as bad as they were before just three years ago. We have replaced ordinary housewives working here with trained nurses. We are changing,” Care Home Director Dagmar Zavadilova said.

Yet there is little doubt the Czech Republic lags behind Western Europe in how it treats its senior citizens. And any improvements may be too late for some.