Press Releases

    Note to Correspondents

    Note No. 5709
    26 February 2002


    NEW YORK, 25 February (UN Headquarters) -- Physical, sexual and emotional abuse of older persons, as well as their financial exploitation, commonly go unnoticed and unreported, with only the most severe cases commanding attention, according to a new report by the Secretary-General to be launched at a press conference at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, 26 February. The report emphasizes the need for global action to combat these serious violations of the human rights of older persons.

    While global statistics are sorely lacking, and the domestic abuse of older persons in particular is grossly under-reported, a number of studies have been conducted at the national level.

    Perpetrators of violence and abuse against older persons, studies show, are more often than not family members, friends and acquaintances. However, abusers can also include strangers who prey on older persons and commercial organizations that defraud older clients.

    In the United States, a study by the National Center on Elder Abuse noted a 150 per cent increase in incidents of abuse between 1986 and 1996. The study showed that perpetrators of the abuse were most frequently adult children (37 per cent), followed by spouses (13 per cent) and other family members (11 per cent).

    In Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, surveys show that 3 to 10 per cent of older persons have been reported to be abused or neglected. In Argentina, 45 per cent of an urban sample of older persons reported mistreatment, with psychological abuse the most frequent form.

    A study of abuse in institutional settings in the United States found that 10 per cent of nursing staff admitted to having committed at least one act of physical abuse of an older person, while 36 per cent had witnessed such an incident. Forty per cent of staff admitted to having verbally abused a resident in the preceding 12 months, while 81 per cent reported to have observed psychological abuse.

    While statistical data is particularly limited for developing countries, non-statistical sources such as criminal records, media reports and small-scale studies show that abuse of older persons is a widespread problem. "Scapegoating", for instance, occurs when older people, usually women, are blamed for ills befalling the community, including drought, flood or epidemic deaths. Incidents have been reported where women have been ostracized, tortured, maimed or even kiiled if they failed to flee the community.

    In many cases, older persons are vulnerable to abuse because of their dependency on others. Individuals at high risk are often mentally or physically impaired due to conditions such as dementia or disability. Other risk factors include poverty, childlessness, living alone and social isolation. Motivation by older persons to conceal mistreatment include fear of institutionalization, fear of retaliation, desire to protect the abuser from the consequences of their acts, shame and embarrasment, as well as the victim’s perception that the abuse is expected or deserved.

    The report stresses the need for futher studies and suggests ways to respond to the problem, including increased awareness and education, improved legislation, and establishment of intervention and prevention programmes.

    The report of the Secretary-General and a backgrounder on elder abuse will be available at the press conference on 26 February. For further information or to arrange interviews, contact Ellen McCuffie, tel: (212) 963-0499, or Laufey Love, tel: (212) 963-3507, of the United Nations Department of Public Information.

    For information on the Second World Assembly on Ageing, please visit

    * *** *