Elder Abuse

The majority of elderly people do not suffer abuse. But sadly, there are ways that older people can be mistreated or hurt by others. At any given time, an elderly person may encounter multiple forms of abuse.

This form of abuse is characterised as:

An older person’s human and civil rights may be violated by “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust.” Report of the Working Group on Elder Abuse, Protecting Our Future, September 2002

The age of 65 is considered to be the threshold beyond which abuse may be classified as elder abuse.

How can elder abuse manifest itself?

There are several types of abuse, and any or all of them could be committed with malicious intent, carelessness, or ignorance.

  • Physical abuse, such as punching, slapping, pushing, or kicking; medication abuse; restraint; or unsuitable punishment.
    Sexual abuse includes rape, sexual assault, and any other sexual acts that the older adult either did not consent to, was unable to consent to, or was forced to consent to.
  • Verbal abuse, humiliation, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, isolation from services or supportive networks, emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, and other forms of psychological abuse.
    Financial or material abuse, such as misappropriation or misuse of assets, benefits, or property; theft; fraud; exploitation; pressure in relation to wills, property, inheritance; or financial transactions.
  • Neglect and acts of omission include failing to attend to a person’s physical or medical needs, denying them access to necessary medical, social, or educational services, and denying them access to basic necessities like heat, food, and medication.
    Abuse that is based on a person’s disability, ageism, racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination are all examples of discriminatory abuse.

For examples of elder abuse in various forms and information on how to spot the signs, please visit the HSE Elder Abuse Service website.

How widespread is elder abuse?

It is challenging to establish a precise baseline for the prevalence of elder abuse. Due to issues with definitions, research data, and methodology, generalisations from prevalence survey results are not always appropriate.

The majority of researchers from around the world concur that approximately 4–5% of older people are at risk of experiencing abuse or neglect, and that women make up the majority of those affected. When all forms of abuse are taken into account, according to international prevalence studies, between 3 and 5% of older people are victims of elder abuse. Physical and sexual abuse are two of the more severe types, but they are relatively uncommon (World Health Organisation, 2002).

The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and the King’s College Institute of Gerontology jointly conducted the first prevalence study of elder abuse in the UK, which was published in June 2007. Between March and September 2006, 2,100 senior citizens from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland participated in the survey. It included seniors, 66 years of age and older. It excluded those with dementia and those residing in facilities like the NHS or care facilities.

In total, it was discovered that 2.6% of elderly residents in the community had been mistreated by a family member, friend, or paid caregiver. According to this statistic, one in every forty senior citizens who visit their general practitioner may be a victim. The overall prevalence of older people over the age of 66 being abused while living in their own home increased from 2.6% to 4.0% when statistics were expanded to include neighbours and acquaintances. This is equivalent to 342,000 people.

If the WHO estimate of 3 to 5% were applied to Ireland, 12,000 to 21,500 elderly people might be abused.

Who might mistreat an elderly person?

Elder abuse can occur from a wide range of sources, including friends, associates, volunteers, paid caregivers, professional staff, family members, and other service users.

Where could there be abuse?

Any setting can be the scene of abuse. It may happen when an elderly person lives alone or with a relative, in residential or daycare facilities, in hospitals, home assistance programs, and other locations deemed to be secure, as well as in public areas.

Abuse and maltreatment patterns differ and are influenced by various factors:

  • Long-term abuse, such as domestic violence or sexual abuse between spouses or generations, that occurs in the context of an ongoing family relationship.
  • Opportunistic abuse, like theft that occurs as a result of money being left around.
  • Situational abuse occurs as a result of mounting pressures and/or the older person’s difficult or challenging behaviour.
    neglect of a person’s needs occurs when those close to them are unable to take care of them, such as when a caregiver is struggling with debt, alcoholism, or mental health issues.
  • Unacceptable “treatments” or “programs,” which include sanctions or punishment, such as depriving a person of food and water, isolating them, using restraints or other forms of control on them without cause, or using too much or too little medication.
  • Ageism, racism, and other forms of discrimination by staff members, including ageism, racism, and other forms of discrimination, may be caused by a lack of proper instruction.
  • Misuse of benefits and/or financial use of the individual by household members or caregivers.
    fraud or coercion involving wills, assets, or other propertyWhy do Elder Abuse Incidents Go Unreported?
  • Non-recognition – The abuse may go unnoticed or unrecognised by the victims.
  • Confusion – Victims blaming dementia, etc. for their feelings regarding the abuse.
  • Control – Victims may believe they have control over the situation, believe they have the resources to deal with the abuse, or believe that if they reveal the abuse, someone else will seize control of their lives.
  • Justification: Self-blame; “It could have been worse”; Feeling as though they are receiving justice, as in the case of someone who feels they were a bad parent. Elders frequently believe they are to blame for the abuse and have lost control of their lives.
  • Fear of being judged by others – shame
  • “If the abuser leaves, who will take care of me?” is a common fear of dependence and abandonment.
  • Fear of being institutionalised belief that social services or police cannot assist them
  • A conviction that they cannot demonstrate that the abuse is taking place

If you, or somebody you know is experiencing elder abuse visit one of the above resources for more information.