Study lifts lid on abuse of elderly

More than 10,000 older people have been abused or neglected in their own homes, new research has revealed.

A report detailed how over-65s were most likely to suffer financial abuse with people in a position of trust using their close relationships to coerce pensioners out of money or property.

The University College Dublin study revealed Ireland has a similar rate of elderly abuse to the UK with psychological and physical attacks, as well as neglect, also common.

Dr Corina Naughton, from the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, who led the research, warned the issue could become worse as the population gets older.

“Although the majority of older people do not experience mistreatment by people close to them, the risk factors for elder abuse and neglect are likely to increase as the population ages, and as a greater number of older people depend on formal and informal support,” she said.

There are about half a million over-65s in Ireland and experts estimate that by 2061 the number of older people could reach 1.8 million.

The National Study of Elder Abuse and Neglect, by the National Centre for the Protection of Older People and the Health Service Executive (HSE), found 1.3% of over-65s felt forced to hand over money or property.

It found psychological abuse the second most prevalent factor, with 1.2% reporting verbal attacks and other mistreatment, 0.5% stating physical abuse, 0.3% neglect, and 0.05% sexual abuse.

Dr Naughton said: “The most frequently reported incidents of financial abuse were older people being forced to give money or property to someone in a position of trust.

“The most frequent types of psychological abuse reported included verbal insults, followed by being excluded, undermined, verbal threats and being prevented by the perpetrator from seeing people that the older person cares, about such as grandchildren.”

The study noted a majority of physical abuse related to being pushed, threats or being hit with an object, kicked, and denied access to equipment such as a walking or hearing aid or being restrained.

The report said that the rate of elder abuse ran at about 2.2% – similar to the rate in the UK.

The highest levels of mistreatment, 3.4%, occurred in inter-generational households or complex household structures where the older person shared the home with an adult child and their family or other relatives.

Older people living alone or with a spouse or partner were less likely to face abuse and neglect, Dr Naughton said.

Aine Brady, junior minister for older people, warned elder abuse was totally unacceptable.

“Until now we could only assume that the prevalence of elder abuse was not unlike that in other developed countries. But this report gives us more precise data to work with,” the minister said.

Ms Brady called on anyone with concerns to report anxieties to a Health Service Executive (HSE) social worker, a public health nurse, a GP, a member of the Garda, or in the case of financial abuse, a solicitor or bank official.

The study was carried out by interviewing more than 2,000 over-65s in private, in their own homes.

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