Ageing and life-course

Elder abuse

What is elder abuse?

WHO / SEARO / Chadin Tephaval

Elder abuse can be defined 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". Elder abuse can take various forms such as financial, physical, psychological and sexual. It can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect.

Based on available evidence, WHO estimates that 15.7% of people 60 years and older are subjected to abuse. These prevalence rates are likely to be underestimates as many cases of elder abuse are not reported. Globally the numbers of people affected are predicted to increase as many countries are experiencing rapidly ageing populations.

Elder abuse has serious consequences for individuals and society including serious physical injuries and long-term psychological consequences, increased risk of nursing home placement, use of emergency services, hospitalization and death.

Addressing elder abuse

Urgent public health action is needed to protect the rights of older persons. Approaches to prevent, detect and address elder abuse need to be placed within a cultural context and considered alongside culturally specific risk factors. For example, in some traditional societies, older widows are subjected to forced marriages while in others, isolated older women are accused of witchcraft.

From health and social care perspectives, unless both primary health care and social service sectors are well equipped to prevent, identify and deal with the problem, elder abuse will continue to be highly prevalent, underdiagnosed and overlooked.

About ageing and
life-course

Populations around the world are rapidly ageing. This is a cause for celebration. In part it reflects our successes in dealing with childhood disease, maternal mortality and in helping women achieve control over their own fertility.

Contact us

Department of Ageing and Life-Course
World Health Organization
Avenue Appia 20
1211 Geneva 27
Email: ageing@who.int