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Roughly 141 million older adults are affected by elder abuse, but it remains a neglected policy priority

Yon Y, Mikton CR, Gassoumis ZD, Wilber KH.  Elder abuse prevalence in community settings: A systematic review and meta-analysis  Lancet Global Health. 2017; 5(2):e147-e156.

Review question

  • What is the prevalence of abuse of adults over the age of 60 in a community setting at both global and regional levels?


  • The psychological, physical, sexual and financial abuse of seniors is a known, worldwide concern. Nevertheless, a current quantitative measure of the variation of abuse prevalence at both global and regional levels is lacking.
  • To date, an older systematic review estimated the elder abuse prevalence of five different continents to range between 2.2% and 79.7%. A number of prevalence studies have been conducted since then, thus this is an opportune time for this review to be conducted.
  • This systematic review (which includes a meta-analysis of all the data) aims to identify the global variations in prevalence estimates of elder abuse.

How the review was done

  • A detailed search of a number of electronic databases for studies published prior to 26 June 2015 was conducted. Studies that focused on elder abuse prevalence in the community were included in the review.
  • A total of 38,544 studies were identified in searches, and 52 were included in the review after assessments for eligibility.
  • This review was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the World Health Organization’s Department of Ageing and Life Course.

What the researchers found

  • The review analyzed 52 studies from geographically and economically diverse regions of the world. The combined prevalence for overall elder abuse was 15.7%.
  • After adjustment for publication bias, the prevalence estimate for psychological abuse was 11.6%, 6.8% for financial abuse, 4.2% for neglect, 2.6% for physical abuse and 0.9% for sexual abuse.


  • This review estimates the global and regional elder abuse prevalence to be almost one in six older adults. This prevalence estimate suggests that there are approximately 141 million victims of elder abuse every year. The authors of this review suggest that this issue should become a public policy priority.
  • Limitations of this review include significant heterogeneity in the studies, which may be explained by sample sizes, income classifications, and methods of data collection. In addition, the majority of the studies included were from high-income countries.


Advanced statistical methods contrasting and combining results from different studies.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

Related Web Resources

  • Safeguarding adults

    Know the signs of abuse: frequent arguments with a caregiver, changes in personality, unexplained injuries, bruising, unusual weight loss or unsafe living conditions. Ask doctors, social workers or community nurses for support if you or someone you know might be abused. Contact the police if someone you know is in physical danger.
  • Screening for intimate partner violence and abuse of elderly and vulnerable adults: Consumer fact sheet

    U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)
    Elder abuse can be financial, physical, sexual, psychological harm done to an older adult, or neglect or abandonment. There is not enough evidence to determine if screening all older adults for abuse and neglect can successfully identify elder abuse or help prevent it.
  • Behavioral weight loss programs are effective — but where to find them?

    Harvard Health Letter
    Behavioral weight loss programs can help people lose weight and are relatively safe. They may also help reduce the risk of diabetes. If you are not able to access a behavioural weight loss program, you can develop a tailored version with a team of health professionals and specialists or try a variety of mobile phone apps geared towards weight loss.
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