Cape Town - Of every 100 people who walked through the doors of the Saartjie Baartman Centre last year, 17 of them were women over the age of 60. An increased amount of elderly women are seeking assistance from the Manenberg facility especially due to abuse by a younger relative, head social worker Dorothea Gertse said.Wednesday marked World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Older people are vulnerable to physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse, she pointed out. "As they age, many also experience economic abuse when relatives or third parties begin to exploit them."Increasingly, family members will accompany the elderly to pension pay points just to get access to their money."Substance abuse and a fragmented family life are among factors which contribute to this scourge, Gertse said.High levels of abuse"The older women seeking assistance at the shelter have often taken on the role of caregiver to their grandchildren. Financially they cannot take care of the dependants they've been landed with and they cannot cope. Substance abuse is a major contributor to verbal and emotional elder abuse. Adult children bully their parents into enabling their habit."City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for social development and early childhood development Suzette Little said the levels of domestic violence and abuse against the elderly are unacceptably high in South Africa."Unfortunately the issue doesn't enjoy priority on a very long list of social ills and injustices," she said.The neglect or mistreatment of older people who cannot necessarily fend for themselves cuts across colour and class lines, Little continued."The abused seldom speak out for fear of further victimisation. Many don't know where to turn."'Climate of fear and loneliness'Her department runs numerous programmes for seniors focused on, among other areas, fostering a sense of belonging and opportunities to make friends. This includes a home-based care initiative where hundreds of people are trained to interact with and provide care to elderly residents who request assistance, as well as identify signs of abuse which are referred for further investigation. "Our caregivers are [our] eyes and ears, but I want communities to work with us too. Support your elderly neighbour and be the person they can count on should they need it."Blow the whistle on abusive children who never visit their parents in the old age home or who exploit their pensions. The list of examples is endless," Little said. "No one deserves to live their twilight years in a climate of fear or loneliness. Our elders are the reason we are here. They have made sacrifices for our benefit and they deserve our respect."