Elder abuse and neglectold phenomenon: New directions for research, legislation, and service developments

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This article poses the question: Is elder abuse and neglect a social problem, showing that it is. Elder abuse, though, is still the most hidden form of mistreatment and a key to governmental responses to an ageing population. It is an important facet as a family violence problem, an intergenerational concern, as well as a health, justice and human rights issue. Because the phenomenon of elder abuse and neglect is so complex and multi-dimensional, it has to be addressed by multi-professional and inter-disciplinary approaches. Raising awareness is a fundamental prevention strategy and an important step in causing changes in attitudes and behaviors. This has been accomplished by INPEA and the article was developed from the lecture given by the author on receiving the International Rosalie Wolf Award from INPEA. The discussion focuses on elder abuse as a product of global ageing, stemming from population ageing, which is consistent with an increased prevalence of abuse of all vulnerable groups, older people among them. It is pointed out that baseline and trend data on the nature and prevalence of senior abuse are crucial to policy responses and the development of appropriate programs and services. Difficulties in assessing the scope of the phenomenon, though, are due to: problems in definitions and methodology, which create difficulties in comparing data from various countries; lack of social and familial awareness; isolation of some elders, especially migrants; elder abuse as a 'hidden issue' that usually occurs in the privacy of the home and is viewed as a family affair; limited access to institutional settings. Difficulties also exist in constructing a unifying research framework in order to study the phenomenon due to a lack of comparison groups, a lack of representative national surveys and difficulties in measurement. There is currently, however, an increase in prevalence and incidence studies from both sides of the Atlantic and especially from Europe. But while prevalence studies provide base-data on numbers, little is known about key conceptual issues for policy, practice and the understanding of different forms of abuse and neglect. Theoretical under-development hampers the collection of systematic cumulative knowledge which is based on universally agreed upon and standardized tools, and reduces the ability to discover unifying themes and their relationship to local idiosyncrasies existing in the field. Additionally, there has been no attempt to develop theoretical knowledge grounded in data from the study of elder abuse itself. The following vehicles for action are, thus, suggested: Developing international, national and regional research agendas and data bases; developing policy and legislation; developing services and interventions and developing educational programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)278-287
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Elder Abuse and Neglect
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2009


  • An hidden phenomenon
  • Awareness raising
  • Elder abuse as social problem
  • Need for theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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