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Elder Abuse and Neglect - Press release 20.11.05

> Link to an invitation to the Press Conference on 30.11.2005

Elder Abuse and Neglect: Opening Pandora’s Box

Global Prevention and Intervention Strategies for an Under-Reported Phenomenon

Until very recently elder abuse, the mistreatment of older people, had been a social problem hidden from the public view - mostly regarded as a private matter, though a manifestation of the timeless phenomenon of inter-personal violence. Prevalence rates and estimates exist only in selected countries and have so far been restricted to a few developed nations. Where there are prevalence studies on elder abuse, rates range between 1% and 10%. However, these figures may represent only the “tip of the iceberg”, with many experts believing that elder abuse is under-reported by as much as 80%. Although the extent of elder mistreatment is unknown, its social and moral significance is obvious. Elder abuse – to include the pervasive problem of neglect - is a problem that manifests itself in both rich and poor countries, North and South. As such, it demands a global orchestrated response to it.

UN estimates indicate that by 2025 the number of older persons (60+ years) will double from the current 600 million to 1.2 billion. Out of one million people that turn 60 every month 80% are in the developing world. Although the proportion of older people out of the total population is higher in developed countries, the percentage increase of the elderly population is much greater in developing countries. While elder abuse is not a new phenomenon, the speed of population ageing world-wide - in this context of profound societal changes - will inevitably lead to an increase on its incidence and prevalence.

Elder abuse can be of various forms: physical, psychological/emotional, sexual and financial abuse. It can also simply reflect intentional or unintentional neglect. Like any other form of abuse, elder abuse is a violation of human rights and a significant cause of injury, illness, lost productivity, isolation and despair. It is typically under-reported in most cultures - to a large extent as a reflection of being under-researched. According to Dr Alexandre Kalache, Director of the Ageing and Life Course Unit of the World Health Organization, "in many ways societies are today in relation to elder abuse as they were two or three decades ago in relation to child abuse or violence against women."

The Ageing and Life Course Unit of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Interdisciplinary Gerontology/University of Geneva (CIG-UNIGE) are working together on an international research project on elder abuse. This partnership is supported by the Geneva International Academic Network (GIAN).

The goals of the project are:

  1. To develop and validate a reliable instrument applicable in different geographical and cultural contexts to increase awareness among the Primary Health Care (PHC) professionals to the problem of elder abuse;
  2. To build the capacity of PHC workers to deal with elder abuse through evidence based education for the development of prevention strategies.

Dr Charles-Henri Rapin states, "A focus on primary health care settings was chosen for this research, as it is within this context that elder abuse can be first identified - or overlooked altogether." This year, a study was conducted in which the acceptance and usefulness of the Elder Abuse Suspicion Index - an instrument developed in Canada - among medical doctors and older persons in different cultural and geographical contexts was assessed. The coordinators from the eight participating countries (Australia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Kenya, Singapore, Spain and Switzerland) will present their findings during a three-day meeting (28-30 November 2005) at WHO. Based on the results of this qualitative study a piloting project in as many countries will be contemplated in 2006.

For additional information please contact: Dr Alexandre Kalache (Tel: +41 22 791 34 04, kalachea@who.int ) or Ms Karina Kaindl (Tel: +41 22 791 34 58,  kaindlk@who.int ); also please consult the GIAN's web site  kaindlk@who.int or http://www.who.int/ageing/projects/elder_abuse/en/index.html .

Related Project(s)

Annual Call for Projects 2003 A Global Response to Elder Abuse Including Neglect: Building Primary Health Care Capacity to Deal with the Problem World-Wide

>See the Project