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Psychological elder abuse: measuring severity levels or potential family conflicts?

Ana João Santos (Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas Abel Salazar, Universidade do Porto, Porto, Portugal) (Department of Epidemiology, Instituto Nacional de Saúde Doutor Ricardo Jorge, Lisbon, Portugal)
Baltazar Nunes (Department of Epidemiology, Instituto Nacional de Saúde Doutor Ricardo Jorge, Lisbon, Portugal) (CISP – Centro de Investigação em Saúde Pública, Escola Nacional de Saúde Pública, Lisbon, Portugal)
Irina Kislaya (Department of Epidemiology, Instituto Nacional de Saúde Doutor Ricardo Jorge, Lisbon, Portugal)
Ana Paula Gil (CICS.NOVA – Centro Interdisciplinar de Ciências Sociais, Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal)
Oscar Ribeiro (CINTESIS – Centro de Investigação em Tecnologias e Serviços de Saúde, Universidade do Porto, Porto, Portugal) (Instituto Superior de Serviço Social do Porto, Porto, Portugal)

The Journal of Adult Protection

ISSN: 1466-8203

Article publication date: 11 December 2017




Psychological elder abuse (PEA) assessment is described with different thresholds. The purpose of this paper is to examine how the prevalence of PEA and the phenomenon’s characterisation varied using two different thresholds.


Participants from the cross-sectional population-based study, Aging and Violence (n=1,123), answered three questions regarding PEA. The less strict measure considered PEA as a positive response to any of the three evaluated behaviours. The stricter measure comprised the occurrence, for more than ten times, of one or more behaviours. A multinomial regression compared cases from the two measures with non-victims.


Results show different prevalence rates and identified perpetrators. The two most prevalent behaviours (ignoring/refusing to speak and verbal aggression) occurred more frequently (>10 times). Prevalence nearly tripled for “threatening” from the stricter measure (>10 times) to the less strict (one to ten times). More similarities, rather than differences, were found between cases of the two measures. The cohabiting variable differentiated the PEA cases from the two measures; victims reporting abuse >10 times were more likely to be living with a spouse or with a spouse and children.

Research limitations/implications

Development of a valid and reliable measure for PEA that includes different ranges is needed.


The study exemplifies how operational definitions can impact empirical evidence and the need for researchers to analyse the effect of the definitional criteria on their outcomes, since dichotomization between victim and non-victim affects the phenomenon characterisation.



The Aging and Violence study was supported by the Foundation for Science and Technology (Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia) in Portugal (grant PTDC/CS-SOC/110311/2009).


Santos, A.J., Nunes, B., Kislaya, I., Gil, A.P. and Ribeiro, O. (2017), "Psychological elder abuse: measuring severity levels or potential family conflicts?", The Journal of Adult Protection, Vol. 19 No. 6, pp. 380-393.



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