World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

How is elder abuse defined?

The abuse of older people, often referred to as ‘elder abuse’, is a global public health problem.  The following definition, includes elder abuse in both community and institutional settings:

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.

World Health Organization

The age of an ‘older person’ is not explicitly defined. However, statistics offered by the WHO and the United Nations (UN) typically refer to people aged 60 years and older.

What are the main risk factors?

The World Health Organisation identified risk factors that may increase the potential for abuse of an older person at individual, relationship, community and socio-cultural levels. Examples included:

  • Individual: poor physical and mental health of the victim; mental disorders and alcohol and substance abuse in the abuser; and gender.
  • Relationship: shared living situation; spouse; adult children; abuser dependency on the older person; history of poor family relationships; increase in women entering the workforce meaning caring for older relatives becomes a greater burden.
  • Community: social isolation of caregivers and older persons, due to loss of physical or mental capacity, or loss of friends and family members.
  • Socio-cultural: ageist stereotypes; erosion of generational bonds in a family; systems of inheritance and land rights; migration of young couples; lack of funds to pay for care.

The WHO highlighted that the consequences of abuse can be especially serious for older people. Abuse can lead to long-term psychological problems; convalescence is likely to take longer; and even minor injuries can cause permanent damage or death.

In 2020 a report by Age UK estimated around 180,000 women and 98,000 men aged 60 to 74 were victim-survivors of domestic abuse in England and Wales in 2018/19, based on CSEW data. It went on to note that these statistics were collected before the Covid-19 pandemic, “which will have exacerbated the problems facing older victims”.

What are the signs?

he most common warning signs of elder abuse are strange and sudden changes to an elderly loved one’s mental, physical, or financial well-being. Specific signs of elder abuse vary depending on what type of elder abuse is affecting the victim.

Signs and symptoms of elder abuse can include:

  • Injuries such as bruises, cuts, or broken bones
  • Malnourishment or weight loss
  • Poor hygiene
  • Symptoms of anxiety, depression, or confusion
  • Unexplained transactions or loss of money
  • Withdrawal from family members or friends