Elder abuse is a serious public health problem because, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO) about 5% of the elderly living in countries with high purchasing power suffer some type of abuse, understood this as actions or omissions that occur in the context of a relationship of trust between the elderly and their caregiver or caregivers, and that causes harm or a situation of anxiety or distress to the elderly.
This inadequate treatment includes physical, emotional, sexual, economic and psychological abuse, as well as abandonment, and implies the loss of dignity and respect for those affected, which is why the WHO considers it an authentic violation of human rights.
There is not much information about the true extent of abuse to the elderly, and even less when it comes to developing countries. In addition, in many cases, when violence is exercised within the home, victims do not report the problem because they are afraid.
As for the abuse that occurs in institutions such as nursing homes, hospitals, and other care centers, there is not much data available either. However, in the United States a nursing home survey was conducted in which 36% of the respondents admitted having witnessed at least one case of physical abuse in an elderly patient during 2010. In addition, one of every ten felt committed at some point because of physical abuse to an older patient, and 40% said that these patients were psychologically mistreated.
Abuses against the elderly can include physical injuries, both minor and serious, which in some cases can cause the permanent disability of those affected, and psychological damage such as anxiety and depression.
The number of elderly people who suffer abuse throughout the world is expected to increase due to the progressive aging of the population and the lack of resources to meet their specific needs
The most worrisome is that the number of elderly people who suffer abuse throughout the world is expected to increase due to the progressive aging of the population and the lack of resources to meet their specific needs. In 2025, it is estimated that people over 60 years old will have more than doubled compared to 1995, from 542 million to about 1,200 million.
Risk of abuse to the elderly
There are a number of risk factors that increase the chances of an elderly person being mistreated. That the elderly suffer from dementia or some other mental disorder, or that the aggressor consumes drugs or alcohol in excess, are considered risk factors on a personal level. It also influences that there is a family relationship between both victim and aggressor, and the sex of the victim, for example, being a woman in certain cultures where this alone is already a reason for discrimination.
A family relationship of cohabitation supposes an increased risk of abuse, and it is estimated that the risk of abuse is also greater when the abuser is economically dependent on the elderly person with whom he lives. In the family, there has been another phenomenon that negatively influences, and is the incorporation of women into the world of work, which leaves less time to care for the elderly, turning their care into an additional burden that increases the risk of abuse .
Another problem is the social isolation to which many elders are forced, because they suffer physical or mental pathologies that prevent them from interacting with other people, besides having lost family and friends.
Certain sociocultural aspects, such as the image of the elderly as dependent and weak, the lack of contact between the different generations of the family, the economic interests linked to the inheritance, or the lack of financial means to pay for the care of the elderly, they also increase the risk that the elderly are mistreated.
At the institutional level, it is easier for abuses to occur if appropriate measures are not established for the health care of the elderly, or if the professionals responsible for their care are not well trained or do not receive a salary commensurate with the amount of work, or do not have enough time to carry out their work.
Measures to prevent mistreatment of the elderly
Various strategies have been put in place in order to avoid ill-treatment of the elderly. In the nations with higher incomes, campaigns have been launched to raise awareness on this issue to public opinion and professionals, to detect situations of abuse and to identify aggressors and their victims, actions have been taken to support caregivers, The police and the social workers have visited the elderly man's home, and the obligation to report the mistreatment to the authorities has been established, among other initiatives.
However, there is no data available that demonstrates the effectiveness of these and other interventions. According to WHO, in order to reduce abuse to the elderly, it is necessary to involve multiple sectors, such as the one in charge of social welfare (offering financial, legal, and housing support), education (spreading campaigns to sensitize society), and that of Health (so that primary care personnel are trained to detect and treat victims of abuse).