It is common for older adults to be subjected to abuse by relatives and health and social care staff. Experiences of elder abuse is associated with both physical and mental ill health but is often unknown to caregivers. In this project we test the effect of educating healthcare staff about elder abuse with the long-term goal to improve staff’s capacity to identify and provide help to older adults who have been subjected to abuse.

The incidence of elder abuse has been reported as between 10 and 15 per cent in both Swedish reports and international studies. Older adults are subjected to abuse by both relatives and health and social care staff. They are subjected to psychological, physical,sexual and financial abuse, but also to neglect. Even though victimization often causes great suffering and is associated with ill health and an increased use of healthcare resources, the abuse is often unknown to healthcare staff.

REAGERA stands for Responding to Elder Abuse in GeriAtric care and is a research project whose long-term goal is to improve the healthcare system’s capacity to identify and provide help to older adults who have been subjected to abuse. In other parts of the research project, we investigate experiences of elder abuse and how professionals can work to identify abusive experiences among older adults by using screening instruments. One part of the project focus on abuse against older adults not suffering from cognitive disorder and another part focus on people suffering from dementia.

In this part of the project we are testing the effect of educating healthcare staff about elder abuse. The course consists of three different parts.

  • Theory: What is elder abuse? How can it be detected and how should the response be handled?
  • Films and group discussions: With a starting point in films and simulated meetings with patients, we discuss how questions about abuse can be asked and how the response can be handled.
  • Forum theatre: Based on the staff members’ own experiences and prepared cases, drama teachers work with the staff. They start by acting out a scene that portrays a difficult situation, e.g., asking questions about abuse or managing an agitated relative. The staff members are invited to try alternative ways of acting in the scene and investigate how these affect the outcome. This makes it clear that there were often other ways of acting in situations that may initially feel too difficult. The method gives staff members the opportunity to practice dealing with difficult situations and finding alternative ways of acting as a form of skills training.

The training model is being tested both on staff working within primary care and in-patient care. A pilot study was conducted in 2020 and the results indicate that the educational model was efficient. The results are published and can be found here.

REAGERA Educational Intervention is conducted in collaboration with Region Östergötland, Region Jönköpings län and Linnaeus University. The study is expected to be in progress during the period 2021–2024 and is registered on (ID no. NCT05065281). A study protocol has also been published.