Ethical care and well-being of older adults: an exploratory study of elder neglect and abuse

The issue of vulnerability of older adults is timely and important not only because of the general ageing of the population, but also due to the fact that older persons today can expect to live for a few decades post-retirement. Consequently, their longer lifespan is associated with increased needs of care, resulting from living with several comorbidities and higher morbidity rates. Greater probability of suffering from several physical and neurological conditions and of increased needs render older people more vulnerable. Therefore, the organisation, structure and implementation of care of older adults are associated with special challenges and ethical issues. Data concerning the incidence and prevalence of elder neglect and abuse occurring within the family setting and health care settings is available from studies conducted in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, and other developed countries. These studies have used either available government data, reports of abuse and neglect witnessed and perpetrated by health care workers, or self-reports of neglect and abuse incidents experienced by older adults. Since no study so far has captured the scope or nature of elder neglect and abuse in Switzerland, this pilot study aims to examine in an exploratory manner this phenomenon from the perspectives of nursing staffs working in geriatric units, emergency care, and nursing homes. Elder neglect and abuse is a societal problem with many facets encountered worldwide. Because of the sensitive nature of the topic, lack of funding, and fear of negative results data on this subject is limited. Study findings will be the first of this kind in Switzerland and will contribute towards improving understanding of elder neglect and abuse and thereby, providing a basis for taking steps to ensure well-being and ethical care of older patients and other elders in our society.