International Psychogeriatrics

Special Issue Research Articles

Elder mistreatment, ageism, and human rights

Simon Biggsa1 c1 and Irja Haapalaa2a3

a1 School of Social & Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

a2 School of Applied Educational Sciences and Teacher Education, University of Eastern Finland, Savonlinna, Finland

a3 Currently a Visiting Research Fellow, National Ageing Research Institute, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


Background: Elder mistreatment, social ageism, and human rights are increasingly powerful discourses in positioning older people in society, yet the relationship between them has rarely been subjected to critical investigation. This perceived relationship will have implications for how mistreatment is understood and responded to.

Method: Critical gerontological approach based on narrative and textual analysis.

Results: Reports of public attitudes toward mistreatment suggest that it is thought to be more common than scientific evidence would suggest; however, reporting is much lower than prevalence. While the discourse over mistreatment has tended to focus on interpersonal relationships, ageism has emphasized social attitudes, and human rights have concentrated on relations between the state and the individual.

Conclusions: In this paper, a series of models have been examined which mark a tendency to restrict and then attempt to reintegrate individual, interpersonal, and social levels of analysis. It is concluded that a focus on the processes of transaction across boundaries rather than contents would facilitate both integrative modeling and deeper understanding of the qualities of abusive situations.

(Received September 08 2012)

(Reviewed October 07 2012)

(Revised December 10 2012)

(Accepted December 12 2012)

(Online publication February 08 2013)

Key words:

  • elder mistreatment;
  • human rights;
  • social ageism;
  • dignity;
  • ambivalence


c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: Professor Simon Biggs, School of Social & Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Victoria, 3010, Australia. Phone: +61-3-94831368; Fax: +61-3-9417 2691. Email: