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Almost one out of five elderly Israelis is exposed to verbal, economic or physical abuse and one out of four suffers from neglect. The rates of abuse in Israel are in conformity with other Western countries but the scope of neglect is much wider here.

These are the major findings of the first national survey of its kind to be conducted in Israel and to establish the scope of abuse, the demographic characteristics of the abusers and the victims, the readiness to apply for assistance and the attitude of the elderly toward the abuse.

The survey used a variety of tools including national studies from abroad, and in-depth interviews with a broad sample of 1,045 elderly. The elderly were defined as women above the age of 60 and men over 65. The sample comprised only urban dwellers and did not include people in homes or rural communities. The average age of those interviewed was 74.

The survey found that 18.4 percent of the elderly were exposed to one form or another of violence and that 25 percent suffered from neglect. The most common form of abuse was verbal abuse - cursing, shouting and threats - which 14.2 percent of the elderly faced even daily. Another 6.6 percent reported they were economically abused and 2.7 percent said their freedom of movement was limited by their being locked in the house or forbidden to use the telephone.

Two percent said they suffered physical abuse - being pushed, hit, having objects thrown at them and being forced into sex. Of those who suffered physical abuse, 14 percent needed medical treatment.

The most common form of economic abuse was pressure to give more money.

Neglect was defined as withholding medical, nutritional and hygienic services and refusing to fix or install equipment for the disabled. About 20 percent reported they had suffered abuse of this kind but most of them had not turned for help outside the family. The researchers said it was possible that this phenomenon was more widespread in Israel because the elderly were reluctant to worry family members with such issues.

About one-third of the victims said they suffered more than one kind of abuse.

Women were found to be more prone to abuse than men, and Arab women were in the worst position of all, suffering physical violence twice as often as Jewish women. On the other hand, Jewish men suffered more verbal abuse than Arab men.

Most of the physical and verbal abuse, and the restriction of freedom, came from partners, while grown children were found to be the biggest culprits when it came to economic abuse.

The survey was funded by Joint-Israel and the National Insurance Institute. It was conducted by professors Zvi Izakowitz and Ariela Levenstein of the University of Haifa. They wrote: "The general picture that emerges is that there is indeed a phenomenon of abuse of the elderly in sufficiently significant rates to describe it as a social problem that should be related to publicly, clinically and scientifically."