A feeling of safety when out and about or at home is a very important factor in sustaining independence and engagement. While all age groups need to feel safe in their own homes and neighbourhoods, there is some evidence that older people are more fearful for their own safety. This fear may be linked to the potential vulnerability of older people both within their own homes and in the surrounding environment. In particular, adults who are aged 80 and over tend to report greater feelings of unsafety relative to younger-old adults (aged 60-79) (de Donder, de Witte, Dury, Buffel, & Verté, 2012).
Older people identify safety at home and in their neighbourhood as key elements of good quality of life (Gabriel & Bowling, 2004). Consistent with this, older adults who live in unsafe or deprived areas tend to report lower life satisfaction (Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Gowdy, 2007; Lelkes, 2006; Shields & Wheatley Price, 2005). Feelings of unsafety or fear of crime are more common among adults who live in areas with low social cohesion, or who feel that society is ageist, (de Donder et al., 2012; Schweitzer, Kim, & Mackin, 1999). Fear and loneliness can perpetuate each other – feeling unsafe may lead to increased social isolation, which in turn increases feelings of being unsafe (Jakobsson & Hallberg, 2005).
In addition to fear of crime, older adults may be afraid to go outside for health reasons, particularly fear of falling. However, this fear may have a further negative effect on health, as evidence suggests that older adults who say that they are afraid to go outside are more likely to have increased difficulties walking 6 months later, compared with those who are not afraid (Rantakokko et al., 2009). Older adults who perceive their neighbourhoods as unsafe, particularly at night, tend to engage in less physical activity, regardless of socioeconomic status (Bennett et al., 2007; Tucker-Seeley, Subramanian, Li, & Sorensen, 2009).
“single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person” (WHO 2002: 3).
Mistreatment can be physical, psychological or sexual, or involve neglect. Estimates of the prevalence of elder abuse vary widely, from less than 1 in 100 in Spain one to 1 in 3 in Israel (Naughton et al., 2010). A recent survey in Ireland suggested that 2.2% or one in 45 adults aged 65 or over had experienced abuse in the previous 12 months (Naughton et al., 2010). This equates to just over 10,000 people. Women, the oldest-old, and older adults with poorer physical health appear to be more likely to experience abuse. Elder abuse can have severe psychological and physical consequences and often goes un-reported.