WHO updates fact sheet on Elder Abuse (1 October 2015)

Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its fact sheet on elder abuse.

Key Messages:

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.

Although statistics regarding the magnitude of the problem are not available from many (developing) countries, it is estimated that 1 in 10 elderly persons experiences abuse each month.

The above statistic is likely to be an underestimation as only 1 in 24 cases of elder abuse is reported.

Prevalence estimates of the most common types of abuse in high- or- middle-income countries are given below:

  • physical abuse: 0.2-4.9%;
  • sexual abuse: 0.04-0.82%;
  • psychological abuse: 0.7-6.3% (based on substantive threshold criteria);
  • financial abuse: 1.0-9.2%; and
  • neglect: 0.2-5.5%.

There is little data on elder abuse in institutional settings, especially from developing countries. However, a survey of nursing home staff in the United States of America (USA) indicates that the rates may be high:

  • 36% witnessed at least 1 incident of physical abuse of an elderly patient in the previous year;
  • 10% committed at least 1 act of physical abuse towards an elderly patient;
  • 40% admitted to psychologically abusing patients.

Abusive acts in institutions include:

  • physically restraining patients,
  • depriving them of dignity (by for instance leaving them in soiled clothes) and choice over daily affairs,
  • intentionally providing insufficient care (such as allowing them to develop pressure sores), over- and under-medicating and withholding medication from patients;
  • and emotional neglect and abuse.

Globally, the number of cases of elder abuse is projected to increase as many countries have rapidly ageing populations whose needs may not be fully met due to resource constraints.

Useful Links:

Link to the updated fact sheet:


Link to WHO page on Prevention of Elder Maltreatment:


Link to The Toronto Declaration on The Global Prevention of Elder Abuse:



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