500,000 elderly at risk of abuse

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Up to 500,000 old people are at risk from abuse, a conference on "granny bashing" was told yesterday amid calls for a major survey to discover the extent of abuse of the elderly.

Dr Paul Knight, clinical director of geriatric medicine at Glasgow Royal Infirmary NHS trust, gave the warning to about 170 delegates, including health care professionals, Age Concern, nursing home staff and the elderly, at the conference, called Working Together to Confront Elder Abuse.

Gerry Reid, a lecturer in the department of community health nursing at Caledonian University, said: "What we need is substantial funding for a major survey to target a large number of the population in order to get a profile and find out what the picture is for victims and abusers."

Florence Blackburn, the conference organiser, said: "Abuse can be in many different forms - physical, mental, financial and sexual. People think of abuse of the elderly as people being punched and kicked but it can also be in the sense of neglect. I think it's very much like child abuse before that came to the fore. People didn't believe it existed. People would like to think that their old folk are well looked after but it does not seem to be the case."

Dr Knight said the stereotype of the frail, white-haired old lady living on her own and being abused by a carer was inaccurate. He admitted that there was no accurate picture in the United Kingdom of the extent of abuse of elderly people, though studies suggested between 100,000 and 500,000 old people were at risk. It was easier to characterise the abuser rather than the victim. He or she often has physical and mental health problems, is often dependent on alcohol and sometimes dependent financially on the person being abused.

Granny-bashing was relatively rare but there were many forms of abuse. Dr Knight called for a heightened awareness of the possibility of the situation and more support for carers of elderly people.