Objectives: To test the hypothesis that family and professional caregivers have different views about what constitutes elder abuse.
Design: A vignette was given to family and professional carers. They were asked to rate 13 management strategies for behavioural difficulties in a person with dementia on a Likert scale ranging from good idea to abusive. Some of the strategies were abusive according to the Department of Health's ‘No Secrets’ definition.
Setting and participants: Family carers were recruited as part of a study of Alzheimer's disease. We recruited professionals working in several clinical disciplines and settings from a mental health service for older people.
Results: Seventy-four family and 38 professional carers completed questionnaires. The only abusive strategy that significantly more professionals than family carers identified correctly was preventing someone moving by putting a table over their lap (33(86.8%) vs 35(47.3%), p < 0.0005). In contrast, significantly more family carers identified that the neglect item of accepting someone was not clean was abusive (21(28.4%) vs 3(7.9%), p = 0.009).
Conclusions: Professionals and carers reported significantly different views from each other and guidelines about what constituted elder abuse. This may be because abuse remains unacknowledged if people feel there are no better management options, and reporting leads only to punitive action for the carer perhaps coupled with institutionalisation for the person with dementia. Successful guidelines require societal agreement about what constitutes abuse and that prevention leads to better outcomes.