WHO and UN partners will release a new publication, Tackling abuse of older people: five priorities for the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing 2021–2030, on Wednesday, 15 June 2022, to mark this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15th.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), was initiated by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) in 2006, and recognised as a United Nations Day by the General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/66/127 adopted in 2011

The purpose of WEAAD is to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.

The abuse of older people is a serious issue that has not received enough attention. The UN Decade of Healthy Ageing is a unique 10-year opportunity for a step-change in tackling the problem. The five priorities, arrived at through wide consultation with key stakeholders, are to combat ageism, generate more and better data, develop and scale up cost-effective solutions, make an investment case, and raise funds.

Elder abuse is an intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes harm to an adult 60 years and older.

Around 1 in 6 people 60 years and older experienced some form of abuse in community settings during the past year.

Rates in institutional settings, such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities, are higher still, with 2 in 3 staff reporting that they have committed abuse in the past year.

Even if rates remain constant, the absolute number of older people experiencing abuse is predicted to increase as the global population of older people increases. Elder abuse can lead to serious physical injuries and long-term psychological consequences, increased risk of nursing home placement, use of emergency services, hospitalization and premature death.

Promising strategies to prevent and respond to elder abuse include caregiver interventions, which provide services to relieve the burden of caregiving; money management programmes for older adults vulnerable to financial exploitation; helplines and emergency shelters; and multi-disciplinary teams, as the responses required often cut across many systems, including, for instance, criminal justice, health care, mental health care, adults protective services and long-term care.

Ageing presents both challenges and opportunities. It will increase demand for primary health care and long-term care, require a larger and better-trained workforce, intensify the need for physical and social environments to be made more age-friendly, and call for everyone in every sector to combat ageism. Yet, these investments can enable the many contributions of older people – whether it be within their family, to their local community (e.g., as volunteers or within the formal or informal workforce) or to society more broadly.

Societies that adapt to this changing demographic and invest in healthy ageing can enable individuals to live both longer and healthier lives and for societies to reap the dividends.

Many strategies have been implemented to prevent elder abuse, take action against it and mitigate its consequences. Interventions that have been implemented – mainly in high-income countries – to prevent abuse include:

  • public and professional awareness campaigns
  • screening (of potential victims and abusers)
  • school-based intergenerational programmes
  • caregiver support interventions (including stress management and respite care)
  • residential care policies to define and improve standards of care
  • caregiver training on dementia
  • money management programmes
  • multidisciplinary teams.

Efforts to respond to and prevent further abuse include interventions such as: 

  • mandatory reporting of abuse to authorities
  • self-help groups
  • safe-houses and emergency shelters
  • psychological programmes for abusers
  • helplines to provide information and referrals
  • caregiver support interventions.

In May 2016, the World Health Assembly adopted a Global strategy and action plan on ageing and health, which provides guidance for coordinated action in countries on elder abuse that aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals. In December 2020, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2021–2030 the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing, which builds on the Global strategy and calls for ten years of global collaboration across governments, civil society, international agencies, professionals, academia, the media, and the private sector to improve the lives of older people, their families and the communities in which they live.

In line with the Global strategy and the Decade, WHO and partners collaborate to prevent elder abuse through initiatives that help to identify, quantify and respond to the problem, including:

  • building evidence on the scope and types of elder abuse in different settings (to understand the magnitude and nature of the problem at the global level), particularly in low- and middle-income countries from South-East Asia, the Middle East and Africa, for which there is little data;
  • collecting evidence and developing guidance for Member States and all relevant sectors to prevent elder abuse and strengthen their responses to it;
  • disseminating information to countries and supporting national efforts to prevent elder abuse; and
  • collaborating with international agencies and organizations to deter the problem globally.