Use as abuse: Findings from a feasibility study on alcohol-related elder abuse and neglect

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Alcohol-related elder abuse:  An overlooked problem in practice and research

Lead and Corresponding Author and Address

Dr Mary Pat Sullivan

School of Health Sciences and Social Care

Brunel University

Uxbridge, Middlesex   UB8 3PH

01895 268846



Prof Mary Gilhooly, Prof Christina Victor, Prof Ken Gilhooly

Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex

Dr Sarah Wadd

University of Bedfordshire, Luton, Bedfordshire

Mr Nick Ellender

London Borough of Hillingdon, Uxbridge, Middlesex



This study was funded Alcohol Research UK.



Background:  Alcohol abuse by an older person or a carer is consistently identified as a risk factor for elder abuse and neglect.  Current research on elder abuse, however, tells us remarkably very little about the nature of this problem, strategies for effective health and social care interventions, or key policy implications.   The absence of theoretical development in the field of elder abuse also limits our understanding of different forms of abuse, including those where alcohol is present.

Aims:  This paper presents substantive findings from a mixed method feasibility study investigating the role of alcohol in elder abuse.

Design:  We reviewed new referrals to one English Local Authority Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults Team over a 2-year period (n = 1100), and conducted in-depth interviews with safeguarding and specialty alcohol treatment practitioners (n = 12) in various locations.

Findings:  1. Multivariate analysis from the case reviews and thematic analysis of the interviews revealed a significant relationship between an older victim’s alcohol abuse and financial and physical abuse, and additional sources of vulnerability for abuse including issues in the family environment.  2. Our findings capture complex sources of vulnerability when alcohol or drug abuse by a perpetrator is present.  3. Inadequate training for practitioners to identify and work with substance problems and elder abuse was also identified.

Conclusions: The paper concludes with preliminary suggestions for multi-agency interventions, educational initiatives and implications for additional research to further scope the nature of the problem in the UK.


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Mary Pat Sullivan