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New WHO/Europe report: an estimated 10 000 old people physically abused every day


16 Jun 2011


Health & Consumers

Budapest, Copenhagen and Rome, 16 June 2011

Every year at least 4 million older people in the WHO European Region are estimated to suffer physical abuse: being slapped, punched, kicked, burned, wounded with a knife or locked in their rooms. Research also indicates that as many as 2500 older people may die at the hands of family members. These are the main findings of the new European report on preventing elder maltreatment, released today by WHO/Europe at the 3rd European Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion, in Budapest, Hungary. The report gives the first description of the size, causes and consequences of elder maltreatment, and provides an overview of good practice in prevention.

“This is very shocking,” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe: “This abuse is destroying the lives of older people, and affecting their mental and physical well-being at a time when they are very vulnerable. The European population is ageing rapidly and governments need to act urgently to halt this growing health and social problem. This report will help.”

In 2050, a third of the Region’s population will be aged 60 years and older, due to a combination of increased life expectancy and a decline in fertility. More resources will be needed to pay pensions and to provide health and social care. Having more old people dependent on younger carers will place extra strain on economic, social and family structures, particularly at a time of financial constraint. This may in turn increase the numbers of old people who are abused.

The new report, covering the 53 countries in the European Region, looks at physical, sexual, mental and financial abuse; along with neglect, such abuse comprises elder maltreatment in both private settings and residential and nursing homes. In addition to the estimated 4 million older people physically abused each year:


    * 29 million are subjected to mental abuse (insults or threats);

    * 6 million to financial abuse (stolen money or fraud); and

    * 1 million to sexual abuse (sexual harassment, molestation, rape or exposure pornography)

Old people who suffer from dementia and disability are more likely to be abused. This leads to increased dependence, and the victim may live in the same household as the perpetrator. Abuse is also more likely to occur in low- and middle-income countries and in the poorest sections of society.

Elder maltreatment is still a social taboo, and much of it is ignored or underreported in many countries. Nevertheless, the problem is gaining increasing public and political attention, as a common challenge across government departments and sectors. Health systems can play a key role in providing services for people for whom maltreatment leads to physical, sexual and/or mental harm. They are also central in advocating and coordinating preventive action.

The WHO/Europe report, overseen by an international group of experts from the health, justice, social and other sectors, provides guidance for policy-makers, practitioners and development agencies on using evidence-based approaches to prevent elder maltreatment. Proposed actions include:

    * developing and implementing multisectoral national policies and plans to prevent elder maltreatment and to address equity and ethical issues;

    * improving data collection, surveillance and research;

    * implementing prevention and control strategies;

    * strengthening services for victims, including investment in staff training; and

    * raising awareness, with a special emphasis on protective factors.

To access the document online, please cleick here

Notes to editors

    * The 3rd European Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion is a major event bringing stakeholders in preventing  injuries and violence from across Europe to exchange and discuss the latest results of injury research, policies and practices. It is coordinated by Eurosafe, the European Association for Injury prevention and Safety Promotion.

    * The WHO European Region covers over 880 million people in 53 countries, stretching from the Arctic Ocean in the north, the Mediterranean in the south, the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Pacific Ocean in the east (

For more information, please visit the web sites of Eurosafe ( and WHO/Europe:

    * European report on preventing elder maltreatment (
    * Violence and injury prevention (

For further information, please contact:

Dr Dinesh Sethi
Programme Manager (a.i), Violence and Injury Prevention
WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, Rome Office
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +39 06 4877526

Ms Cristiana Salvi
Technical Officer, Communications
WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, Rome Office
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +39 06 4877543, +39 3480192305 (mobile)


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