About 1 in 6 elders experienced abuse in the past year, according to WHO


Credit: Mario Tama

Credit: Mario Tama

The World Health Organization has released new global data to bring light to the realities of elder abuse on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15.

new study supported by WHO and published in the Lancet Global Health journal found that one in six older people ages 60 and older experience some form of abuse.

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Researchers used the best available evidence from 52 different studies in 28 low- and middle-income countries in varying regions of the world.

They found that older people experiencing abuse can face serious physical injuries and long-term psychological consequences.

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In the U.S., one in 10 senior citizens who live at home experience abuse, but that statistic is likely an underestimate, according to Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

WHO also released the pooled prevalence estimates for the five major types of elder abuse and found psychological abuse to be the most pervasive.

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Rates of elder abuse by type in the past year, according to WHO:

  • psychological or emotional abuse: 11.6 percent
  • financial exploitation: 6.8 percent
  • neglect or abandonment: 4.2 percent
  • physical abuse: 2.6 percent
  • sexual abuse: 0.9 percent

The group also found rates of abuse may be higher for elders in institutions, but researchers note that there isn’t enough data on the extent of the issue in long-term care facilities, nursing homes and hospitals.

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However, a survey of 577 nursing home staffers in the U.S. found that in the past year, 36 percent of staffers witnessed at least one incident of physical abuse of an elderly patient, 10 percent committed at least one act of physical abuse and 40 percent admitted to psychologically abusing patients.

The survey suggests rates in institutions may be higher than expected.

According to WHO, elder abuse is more likely to occur in institutions where the standards for health care and welfare services are low, where staff is poorly trained or overworked or where policies don’t put patients’ interests first.

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As global populations rapidly age, cases of elder abuse are projected to increase worldwide, WHO said in a news release.

»  RELATED: Read the full WHO news release

The number of people ages 60 and older has more than tripled since 1950 and will more than double by 2050.

Despite how common elder abuse is, elder abuse is still one of the least investigated types of violence in national surveys, according to Alana Officer, senior health adviser in the WHO Department of Ageing and Life Course.

"We must do much more to prevent and respond to the increasing frequency of different forms of abuse,” she said.

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Through interdisciplinary collaboration between the social welfare sector (legal, financial and housing help) education (awareness campaigns) and health sector (detection and treatment of patients by workers), communities can try and help reduce elder abuse, according to WHO.

Read more about elder abuse statistics, risk factors and prevention.

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