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Brussels, 17 March 2008

Neglect and abuse of older people is widespread, say Europeans

Older people in Europe are vulnerable to poor treatment, neglect and abuse, according to a survey presented by the European Commission today. Almost half (47%) of people across the EU consider the phenomenon to be widespread in their country – and the challenge is only likely to increase as Europeans get older. A high-level EU conference in Brussels will today offer policy makers and experts an opportunity to discuss the quality of care for frail elderly people and pool ideas on preventing elder abuse.

"Each of us faces the possibility of becoming dependent on the help of others when we get older, and currently we cannot be sure that we will be treated with dignity," said Vladimír Špidla, EU Social Affairs Commissioner. "Member States are starting to support the carers and relatives better through training and guidance, they have started to protect the elderly by creating support groups and telephone hotlines and are creating transparent and patient-oriented monitoring systems for the quality of long-term care. I welcome this and at the same time much more needs to be done all across Europe! "

As Europeans live longer, the share of the EU population aged over 80 is due to increase three- or four-fold to 12% by 2050. More and more people will depend on the care of relatives or professional carers and be vulnerable to neglect or even abuse. But while abuse can take many different forms – ranging from physical to psychological – it is more often the result of an inability to cope on the part of stressed and overburdened carers than intent to exploit or harm vulnerable older people.

Although the perceived risk of elder abuse varies among EU countries, protecting the dignity and fundamental rights of the frail elderly is becoming a major challenge for societies across Europe.

Today's conference aims to raise awareness of the need to tackle elder abuse and to trigger an open debate at European level on the best ways of dealing with the problem. It will present information on the prevalence of elder abuse, look at the causes and risk factors related to it and examine possible strategies for tackling it through prevention.

Further information:
Special Eurobarometer survey on health and long-term care in the EU
Conference: Protecting the dignity of older persons – the prevention of elder abuse and neglect (including Discussion paper: What can the European Union do to promote dignity in old age and to prevent elder abuse?)
Video News Release: Protecting the dignity of older people

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