Elder abuse: prevalence and prevention research

A comprehensive study of elder abuse highlighted the role services can play in early intervention and the need for practitioners to be more aware.

What we learned

  • 2.6% of people aged 66 and over living in private households in the UK reported that they had experienced mistreatment involving a family member, friend, or care worker during the past year.

  • Those respondents who used services were more likely to have reported mistreatment.

  • Women were particularly likely to be in this category.

  • A third of those who reported mistreatment had sought help from a health professional or social worker.

  • We estimate that less than 5% are known to adult protection.

    How we learned it

    Comic Relief and the Department of Health funded the survey. Face-to-face interviews were carried out with 2,111 respondents aged 66 and over living in private households in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, between March and September 2006. Respondents from government commissioned health surveys were followed up to obtain large, nationally representative random probability samples. The overall UK response rate was 65%. The achieved sample was weighted to be representative of the general UK population aged 66 and over living in private households.

    How it influences practice

  • Many practitioners are in touch with people who may be experiencing mistreatment and this raises questions about whether they are aware of this, or whether they do something about it.

  • People reporting mistreatment were significantly more likely to be using services, which suggests that a greater awareness of abuse and neglect by practitioners may be needed.

  • Attendance at day centres and lunch clubs can play a role in protection and should be part of any assessment.

  • Adult protection co-ordinators can, for the first-time, use the 2.6% prevalence figure to estimate the likely number of mistreatment cases of older people living in the community in their locality.

    Why it’s important

    This is the first national UK survey and is one of the very few world wide to have used rigorous and transparent methods.

  • The subject of adult protection is under the political spotlight.

  • Local adult services departments are lead agencies in adult protection.

    In response to the research, the government is planning to review the No Secrets guidance and this research contributes to our knowledge about mistreatment.


    ● McCreadie, C et al. (2006) “First steps: the UK national prevalence study of the mistreatment and abuse of older people” Journal of Adult Protection 8 3 4-11

    ● O’Keeffe, M et al. (2007) UK Study of Abuse and Neglect of Older People. Prevalence Survey Report. London: National Centre for Social Research. A summary is available at 


    ● From King’s College, London Claudine McCreadie, Simon Biggs, Anthea Tinker, Jill Manthorpe, Madeleine O’Keeffe, Amy Hills,

    ● From National Centre for Social Research: Melanie Doyle, Rebecca Constantine, Shaun Scholes, and Bob Erens.

    Full author details on our website


    ● Contributions welcome. Go to www.communitycare.co.uk/StaticPages/contact.html#learning for guidelines



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