Psychological abuse among older persons in Europe: A cross-sectional study

Gloria Macassa, Eija Viitasara, Örjan Sundin, Henrique Barros, Francisco Torres Gonzales, Elisabeth Ioannidi-Kapolou, Melchiorre Maria Gabriella, Jutta Lindert, Mindaugas Stankunas, Joaquim J F Soares

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Elder abuse is an issue of great concern world-wide, not least in Europe. Older people are increasingly vulnerable to physical, psychological, financial maltreatment and sexual coercion. However, due to complexities of measurement, psychological abuse may be underestimated. The purpose of this study is to investigate the prevalence of psychological abuse toward older persons within a 12 month period. Design/methodology/approach: The study design was cross-sectional and data were collected during January-July 2009 in the survey "Elder abuse: a multinational prevalence survey, ABUEL". The participants were 4,467 randomly selected persons aged 60-84 years (2,559 women, 57.3 per cent) from seven EU countries (Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, Sweden). The sample size was adapted to each city according to their population of women and men aged 60-84 years (albeit representative and proportional to sex-age). The participants answered a structured questionnaire either through a face-to-face interview or a mix of interview/self-response. The data were analysed using descriptive statistics and regression methods. Findings: The prevalence of overall psychological abuse was 29.7 per cent in Sweden, followed by 27.1 per cent in Germany; 24.6 per cent in Lithuania and 21.9 per cent in Portugal. The lowest prevalence was reported in Greece, Spain and Italy with 13.2 per cent, 11.5 per cent and 10.4 per cent, respectively. Similar tendencies were observed concerning minor/severe abuse. The Northern countries (Germany, Lithuania, Sweden) compared to Southern countries (Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain) reported a higher mean prevalence (across countries) of minor/severe abuse (26.3 per cent/11.5 per cent and 12.9 per cent/5.9 per cent, respectively). Most perpetrators (71.2 per cent) were spouses/partners and other relatives (e.g. children). The regression analysis indicated that being from Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain was associated with less risk of psychological abuse. Low social support, living in rented housing, alcohol use, frequent health care use, and high scores in anxiety and somatic complaints were associated with increased risk of psychological abuse. Social implications: Psychological abuse was more prevalent in Northern than Southern countries and factors such as low social support and high anxiety levels played an important role. Further studies are warranted to investigate the prevalence of psychological abuse and risk factors among older persons in other EU countries. Particular attention should be paid to severe abuse. Such research may help policy makers and health planers/providers in tailoring interventions to tackle the ever growing problem of elder abuse. Originality/value: The paper reports data from the ABUEL Survey, which collected population based data on elderly abuse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-34
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


  • Elderly people
  • Europe
  • Older persons
  • Prevalence
  • Psychological abuse
  • Public policy
  • Risk factors
  • Social problems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Law
  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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