OBJECTIVE--To assess the prevalence of abuse of elderly people by their carers and the characteristics of abusers and the abused. DESIGN--Information on abuse and risk factors was collected over six months from carers and patients. Risk factors were identified in the abused group and compared with those in a non-abused control group. SETTING--Carers were interviewed at home; patients were examined in the wards of Putney and Barnes geriatric hospitals, London. SUBJECTS--All patients referred from any source for respite care to the geriatric services over a six month period and their carers. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Amount of physical and verbal abuse or neglect. Quantification of risk factors and correlation with the presence or absence of abuse. RESULTS--45% Of carers openly admitted to some form of abuse. Few patients admitted abuse. The most significant risk factor for physical abuse was alcohol consumption by the carer (p less than 0.001). Other significant risk factors were a poor pre-morbid relationship and previous abuse over many years. Abuse was often reciprocated and was associated with social dysfunction in many patients. Service delivery, respite care, and level of mental and physical disability were not significantly associated with abuse. CONCLUSION--The high level of abuse found in elderly patients in respite care was particularly associated with alcohol abuse and long term relationships of poor quality, which are difficult to change. Even with increased provision of services, care in the community may not be the best solution for these people
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