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Posted 09 November 2010

Over 10,000 older people mistreated or neglected, study finds

The first ever report into the prevalence rate of abuse and neglect, and the types of abuse, experienced by older people in Ireland living at home shows that more than 10,000 (2.2%) people aged over 65 years have been mistreated in the past 12 months.

The findings of the National Study of Elder Abuse and Neglect were announced by the Minister for Older People and Health Promotion, Aine Brady TD.

“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.

Acknowledging the vital role of those who contributed to the Report the Minster stated: “The insights of over 2,000 men and women who were prepared to share their experiences together with the skills of the research team will greatly assist in the development of the elder abuse service into the future.”

Elder abuse in any form is totally unacceptable, and the Minister urged anyone who has concerns to report their anxieties to, a HSE Social Worker, a public health nurse, a GP, a member of the Garda Síochána, or in the case of financial abuse a solicitor or bank official.

“The HSE welcomes this very important report. It highlights the fact that elder abuse is happening in Ireland and that those older persons who are most vulnerable are more likely to suffer abuse,” said Frank Murphy, Chair of the HSE National Elder Abuse Steering Committee.

“Many of the findings of this report support the HSE’s own data; that abuse of older people is most often perpetrated by close family members. Research such as this will assist all interested individuals and organisations within the country with their efforts to combat elder abuse.”

According to the report conducted by the National Centre for the Protection of Older People (NCPOP) at University College Dublin, with support and funding from the Health Service Executive (HSE):

Financial abuse (1.3%) was the most frequent type of abuse reported, followed by psychological abuse (1.2%), physical abuse (0.5%), and neglect (0.3%). Sexual abuse (at 0.05%) was the least common type of reported abuse.

“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,” said Dr Corina Naughton, from the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery, and Health Systems, who lead the research.

“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 findings also show that the majority of the physical abuse reported related to being pushed, followed by being threatened or hit with an object, kicked, and denied access to equipment such as a walking or hearing aid or being restrained.

“The highest levels of mistreatment (3.4%) occurred in intergenerational households or complex household structures where the older person shared the house with an adult child and their family or other relatives,” explained Dr Naughton. “Older people living alone or with a spouse or partner reported lower levels of mistreatment (1.9%).”

The 12-month prevalence rate (2.2%) of elder abuse and neglect identified in this study is relatively low compared to recent US and some other European studies, but it is similar to the 2007 prevalence estimates of 2.6% in the UK.

“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,” continued Dr Naughton.

Elder abuse and mistreatment is a complex issue involving demographic characteristics, health, social isolation, social welfare and economic factors.

“One of the most important steps in preventing elder abuse is increased awareness among older people themselves, their families and the wider public. The responsibility for tackling elder abuse and neglect is shared across the whole of society, we all have a right to expect a safe and secure future in older age,” she added.

By 2061 the number of people over 65 in Ireland is expected to reach 1.8 million.


Elder abuse is 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 or violates their human and civil rights (World Health Organisation 2002).

The report: “Abuse and neglect of older people in Ireland” was prepared by a team of researchers at University College Dublin including: C. Naughton, M.P. Treacy, J. Drennan, A. Lafferty, I. Lyons, A. Phelan, S. Quin, A. O’Loughlin, and L. Delaney.  

Over 2,000 older people over the age of 65 were interviewed in private, in their own homes for the report. Older people living in residential care settings were not included in the study, as the focus was on community dwelling older people.

According to CSO figures, in 2006 there were 467,900 people aged 65 and over in Ireland or 11% of the population. By 2061 the number of people over 65 in Ireland is expected to reach 1.8 million.

The Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney TD officially announced the establishment by the Health Service Executive of a National Research Centre for the Protection of Older People (NCPOP) at University College Dublin in November 2009.

The NCPOP at UCD was established in response to issues of elder abuse and the recommendations of the Report of the Working Group on Elder Abuse. The aim of the NCPOP is to help policymakers understand, locate and tackle elder abuse in Ireland.

The NCPOP at UCD brings together leading experts from across the fields of Nursing, Medicine, Economics, Social Science, and Public Health and was established by the Health Service Executive.


(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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Over 10,000 older people mistreated or neglected, study finds