Over 15% of people over the age of 60 in the WHO European Region, approximately 30 million people, were estimated to be affected by some form of abuse last year. While it is too early to have robust, updated data for 2020, it is believed that abuse towards older people has risen significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, WHO/Europe calls for urgent, whole-of-government action to protect older people against violence, abuse and neglect.
WHO defines elder abuse 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”. Elder abuse can take various forms, including financial, physical, psychological and sexual, and can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been numerous reports of abuse and neglect of older people living in long-term care facilities and other community settings, but also of those living with family members or in their own homes with caregivers.
Prior to the pandemic, a total of 9 studies in 6 countries based on staff self-reports on perpetrating abuse were analysed together. Findings indicated that 64.2% of staff – 2 out of 3 – perpetrated some form of abuse in the past year.
There is concern that ageism and gender inequalities have worsened during the pandemic, increasing the risk of abuse and violence against older women. At the same time, quarantine and lockdown measures have limited access to essential services, putting many older people at risk of increased neglect.