In 1993 we established the following definition of elder abuse. This has been subsequently adopted by the World Health Organisation,
is promoted by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, and has been variously adopted by countries throughout the World,
including the Republic of Ireland (with a slight addition):
'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
It has at its heart the 'expectation of trust' that an older person may rightly establish with another person, but which is subsequently violated. For this reason we do not involve ourselves with actions that relate to strangers, unless those strangers have abused the expectation of trust.
Any older person can potentially become a victim of elder abuse, which it why is important to consider ways to self-protect. People can be abused in many different ways, and the links on the right will help you understand the five common
types of abuse: physical, psychological, financial, sexual abuse and neglect. Often these abuses are also crimes.
We do not identify racial abuse or institutional abuse as separate forms of abuse because they manifest in these five types. Racial abuse can be what motivates someone in their actions, and institutional abuse can be used to describe the environment and circumstances that give rise to abuse.
In this context, we also have to recognise family abuse, which additionally manifests in the five types described above, but which can complicate the ability of an older person to accept or confront what is happening to them.
Both older men and women can be at risk of being abused, and this can potentially happen wherever they live or visit.
This may include: someone’s own home, in a carer’s home, in a day centre, in a residential home, in a nursing home, or in
The key issue is not about where someone lives or visits, but about whether or not the opportunity exists for another to abuse the relationship of trust and exploit or harm them.
Which is why it is important to think in advance about ways in which someone can reduce the possibility of abuse, by avoiding isolation or dependency, and by having more than one person keeping an eye on matters. Reliance on others does not mean having to be dependent on others, Thinking about self-protection is more about commonsense than about being distrustful.
Both older men and women can be at risk of being abused. The Prevalence Study in 2007, which was undertaken following
representations by AEA, indicated that 4% of older people (both men and women) experienced abuse in their own homes –
at least 342,000 people. When this data was adjusted to include every instance of abuse the percentage figure
rose to 8.6%
The abuser is often well known to the person being abused. They may be: a partner, child or relative, a friend or neighbour, a paid or volunteer care worker, a health or social worker, or other professional, older people may also be abused by a person they care for.
Often, the people who abuse older people are exploiting a special relationship. They are in a position of trust or have
created an expectation of trust, whether through family bonds, friendship or through a paid caring role, and they exploit
In the experience of our helpline, most financial abuse is perpetrated by family members, often sons and daughters, who will often seek to justify their actions e.g. by claiming that they are taking their inheritance 'a bit early'.
Sometimes however abuse is not intentional. It can be because someone lacks the skills or external support necessary to adequately care for another person. We call this 'passive abuse' because it is unintentional. That does not mean that the impact on the older person is any less, but it can help us to understand how best to address the abuse.