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Addressing elder abuse

By Hulian Zhang
Knowledge Exchange Intern for VOICE

As a society, discussion and change has, quite rightly, started around domestic abuse, sexual abuse, bullying, and human rights abuse.  But how about another less discussed abuse: elder abuse?

Ageing is inevitable, but it may influence people of different age groups in different ways.  For children and young people, getting one year older could generally mean becoming taller or getting a later bedtime. However, as we age, growing older takes on more significance.  In later life, frailty, a lack of independence and a lack of mobility can mean an increase in vulnerability, leaving older people exposed to elder abuse.

How many people are open to elder abuse?

Well, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that for people above 60, 1 in 6 are subject to abuse. This rate is likely to be underestimated due to many unreported cases, as another WHO source suggests that only 1 in 24 cases of elder abuse is reported. These victims are suffering from discomfort, insecurity and exploitation and, unfortunately, elder abuse is a marginalized topic in almost all countries; not just because some older people are constrained by their physical conditions in advocating their rights, but also may be less capable of defending themselves and reporting the abuse.  As the number of older people increases globally, elder abuse could become a crucial health and social issue which affects the basic human rights of older people, therefore, governments should not turn a blind eye.

Where does this elder abuse normally happen? 

Generally speaking, elder abuse could be found in many aspects of an older person’s life and may be conducted by either trusted individuals or strangers, causing physical and mental harm, financial loss, or even death.  Those who live in nursing homes and care centres may face violence and poor care from irresponsible staff.  As the WHO’s study revealed, two thirds of staff report that they themselves committed abuse in 2017.  Some people suggest installing CCTV cameras in care homes, others suggest better training for carers.  The biggest cry is to make financial changes; make care homes less profit-centred and give carers better working condition and salaries.

Would these measures help? 

Does this affect only older people who go into care homes?  The answer is unfortunately no, elder abuse can be expressed in forms of domestic violence (either physically or verbally) or financial abuse from members of the family.  Outside the home, older people can be subjected to verbal or physical attack from others when they go to public places or at work.  There are also crimes which are targeted at older people’s money and savings in particular.  By 2050, the global population of people over 60 is expected to reach 2 billion, however, most countries have not yet made viable plans to tackle the issue of ending elder abuse. 

What do you think that international society, government and your community can and should do to end elder abuse?  We would love to hear what you think – join the conversation by submitting your comments below.

15 Jun is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day find out more about this issue at


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  • Zanna28
    15th November 2019

    Hi - I submitted an application but after I pressed 'send' the Voice webpage said 'page not found', so I am not sure it went through. Please confirm. I can re-submit if need be.

    Rosanna King

  • NIHR London IVD Filipa Amaral
    15th November 2019

    Dear Elsie,

    Thank you for your interest in being involved at NIHR London IVD. On the top right-hand side of this page, there is a green button that says "apply here". We would be grateful if you could submit your application there. Please do not hesitate to contact me ([email protected]) if you have any questions.

    Best Wishes,


    NIHR London IVD Co-op PPI Lead

    Imperial College London​

    St Mary's Hospital

    QEQM 10th Floor,

    South Wharf Road, Paddington

    London W2 1NY

    E:[email protected]

  • MaminaNana
    15th November 2019

    I am interested in joining this group and most important, helping out.

    From my home, St Mary’s Hospital is 11 minutes walking distance door to door for me, so attending meetings will not present a problem for me even at short notice.

    I am happy to help and assist in any and all ways that help is required. Cheers Elsie