1. What is Elder Abuse?

What is Elder Abuse?

Most older people do not experience abuse. But, unfortunately, there are ways in which an older person can be harmed or abused by others. An older person may also experience more than one form of abuse at any given time.

Elder abuse is defined as -

''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 or violates their human and civil rights.'' (Protecting our Future, Report of the Working Group on Elder Abuse, September 2002)

65 years of age is taken as the point beyond which abuse may be considered to be elder abuse.

What forms can Elder Abuse take?

There are several forms of abuse, any or all of which may be carried out as the result of deliberate intent, negligence or ignorance.

Please see the HSE Elder Abuse Service website for examples of Forms of Elder Abuse and how to Recognise the signs.


How Common is Elder Abuse?

Establishing an accurate baseline of the prevalence of elder abuse is difficult. It is not always appropriate to draw generalisations from results of prevalence surveys due to problems with definitions and with research data and methodology. Most global researchers agree that somewhere in the region of 4-5% of the population of older people are potentially effected by abuse or neglect and that the majority of those affected by abuse are women. International prevalence studies suggest that between 3 and 5% of older people are victims of elder abuse when all types of abuse are considered. The more severe forms of abuse, such as physical and sexual are relatively rare (World Health Organisation 2002).

The first prevalence study of elder abuse for the UK undertaken by researchers from King’s College Institute of Gerontology and Social Care Workforce Research Unit and with the National Centre foe Social Research (NatCen) was published in June 2007. 2,100 older people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland took part in the survey, between March and September 2006. It included older people aged 66 years and over. It did not include people living in institutions like the NHS or Care Homes, or people with dementia. Overall 2.6% of older people living in the community were found to have experienced mistreatment from a relative, friend or professional carer. This figure indicates that one out of every forty older people visiting their GPs may be a victim. When figures were broadened to include neighbours and acquaintances, the overall prevalence increased from 2.6% to 4.0% of older people over the age of 66 being abused while living in their own home. This equates to about 342,000 people.

Applying the WHO figure of approx. 3 to 5% to Ireland could mean that 12,000 to 21,500 could be victims of elder abuse.

Who might abuse?

A wide range of people may abuse older people, including relatives and family members, professional staff, paid care workers, volunteers, other service users, neighbours, friends and associates.

Where might abuse occur?

Abuse can take place in any context. It may occur when an older person lives alone or with a relative; it may occur within residential or day-care settings, in hospitals, home support services and other places assumed to be safe, or in public places.

Patterns of abuse and abusing vary and reflect different circumstances:


 Reasons why Incidents of Elder Abuse go Unreported?