The Prevalence of Elder Abuse

art-464-01Some experts believe that elder abuse is being under-reported due to the fear older people have in reporting such cases to family, friends, or to the authorities

An ongoing public health concern affecting the older population is elder abuse, which is defined by the World Health Organisation “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.”

Such violence against older people comes in various types, such as physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse; financial and material abuse; abandonment; neglect; and serious loss of dignity and respect.

A 2017 study that analysed the best available evidence from 52 studies conducted in 28 countries found that over the past year, 15.7 percent aged 60 years and above were subjected to some form of elder abuse in community settings.

The rate of elder abuse was especially high in institutional settings – including nursing homes and long-term care facilities – in which a 2018 study discovered that 64.2 percent of staff reported to have committed abusive acts against their patients.

These may include physical restraint; deprivation of dignity and choices over daily affairs; intentional provision of insufficient care; over- and under-medication or withholding of medication; and emotional neglect and abuse.

Elder abuse can result in physical harm and long-lasting psychological consequences such as depression and anxiety towards older people; and if nothing is being done to end the abuse, it can lead to premature death.

Thus, strategies have been implemented in various countries to prevent further violence against older people, ranging from awareness campaigns and caregiver support interventions to mandatory reporting of abuse to authorities and safe-houses and emergency shelters.

This is because cases of elder abuse are expected to increase as the world continues to experience rapidly ageing populations of up to two billion by 2050.

Ideally, formulating and implementing these strategies should take into account risk factors that might potentially increase the chances of elder abuse to take place at individual, relationship, community and socio-cultural levels.

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