2020 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day looks at impact of COVID-19 on older people

June 15, 2020

On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, the World Health Organization (WHO)/Europe calls for urgent, whole-of-government action to protect older people against violence, abuse and neglect.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day takes place every year on June 15 as designated by the United Nations General Assembly.

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.

The 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 nine studies in six countries based on staff self-reports on perpetrating abuse were analyzed together. Findings indicated that 64.2% of staff – two out of three – 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.

This evidence makes a compelling case for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day’s call for decision-makers to develop universally applicable normative standards for the protection of older people. The focus should be on engaging the community in understanding the signs of elder abuse and providing advice via radio, television, the internet, and print and social media on how victims can seek help and receive support safely.

WHO Europe has the release.

More COVID-19 coverage HERE.