WHO Fact Sheet: Elder abuse

From the World Health Organization (WHO):

Key facts

  • Around 1 in 6 older people experienced some form of abuse in the past year.
  • Rates of abuse may be higher for older people living in institutions than in the community.
  • Elder abuse can lead to serious physical injuries and long-term psychological consequences.
  • Elder abuse is predicted to increase as many countries are experiencing rapidly ageing populations.
  • The global population of people aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 900 million in 2015 to about 2 billion in 2050.

Elder abuse is a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person. This type of violence constitutes a violation of human rights and includes physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse; financial and material abuse; abandonment; neglect; and serious loss of dignity and respect.

Scope of the problem

Elder abuse is an important public health problem. A 2017 study based on the best available evidence from 52 studies in 28 countries from diverse regions, including 12 low- and middle-income countries, estimated that, over the past year, 15.7% of people aged 60 years and older were subjected to some form of abuse (1). This is likely to be an underestimation, as only 1 in 24 cases of elder abuse is reported, in part because older people are often afraid to report cases of abuse to family, friends, or to the authorities. Consequently, any prevalence rates are likely to be underestimated.

Although rigorous data are limited, the study provides pooled prevalence estimates of number of older people affected by different types of abuse:

  • psychological abuse: 11.6%
  • financial abuse: 6.8%
  • neglect: 4.2%
  • physical abuse: 2.6%
  • sexual abuse: 0.9%

Data on the extent of the problem in institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities are scarce. A survey of nursing-home staff in the United States of America, however, suggests rates may be high. Of all nursing-home staff surveyed:

  • 36% witnessed at least 1 incident of physical abuse of an elderly patient in the previous year;
  • 10% committed at least 1 act of physical abuse towards an elderly patient;
  • 40% admitted to psychologically abusing patients (2).

Continue reading at the WHO website

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