“To forget the elderly is to ignore the wisdom of the years” – Donald Laird
With the global population of people aged 60 years and older anticipated to reach 2 billion by 2050, the rate of elder abuse will undoubtedly increase. In 2017, the United Nations (UN) collected the best available evidence from 52 studies in 28 countries (including 12 low- and middle-income countries). Results revealed that 15.7% of people aged 60 years and older were subjected to some form of abuse in the past year, and this is likely an underestimation since majority of cases often go unreported.
Elder abuse can take various forms such as physical, psychological or emotional, sexual and financial. It can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect. The study provided prevalence estimates of the number of older people affected by different forms of abuse:
- Psychological abuse: 11.6%
- Financial abuse: 6.8%
- Neglect: 4.2%
- Physical abuse: 2.6%
- Sexual abuse: 0.9%
According to an article by Comparitech, financial abuse (also called elder fraud or financial exploitation), is estimated to be responsible for $27.4 billion in losses annually in the United States alone. 38% of fraud cases intentionally target older adults.
“Our elders, along with all people, have the right to live their lives with dignity and respect, free from abuse of any kind. The best way to protect elders from abusive situations is to focus on prevention, providing information, education, and support.” – Yvette Thomas, KELO FM
IFA Expert Dr. Mark S. Lachs notes in a BioEdge article that doctors should be able to recognize the signs of elder abuse, as physicians who care for older adults are very likely to encounter a patient who is a victim. Dr. Lachs' research, teaching, and clinical experience focus on elder abuse and improving the quality of life for older adults. The focus of his research includes the identification of risk factors for reported elder mistreatment and more recently, the survival of older adults who have experienced mistreatment. He can be contacted through the IFA’s ExpertFile to learn more about elder abuse.
On 15 June, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, the IFA recognizes the individual and societal harms of elder abuse. Combating Ageism is one of the 4 central themes of the IFA’s 15th Global Conference on Ageing, under which abuse has been identified as a sub-theme. Abstracts for these sessions are called to showcase examples of good practice and especially those which have been evaluated. To learn more, please visit the conference website.
Dr. Mark S. Lachs Director
Dr. Lachs is a Professor of Medicine and Co-Chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology at Weill Medical College.