Is greater social support a protective factor against elder mistreatment?

XinQi Dong, Melissa A. Simon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Background: Elder mistreatment (EM) is a pervasive global health issue and a violation of basic human rights. Our prior study indicates that EM is alarmingly common in an urban Chinese population, yet little is known about risk and/or protective factors for EM. Objective: This study's goal was to examine the association of social support with the risk of EM and underlying hypothesis is that greater social support is associated with a lower risk for EM. Methods: A cross-sectional descriptive study was performed in a major urban medical center in Nanjing, China. A total of 412 subjects aged 60 years or older who presented to the general medical clinic were surveyed. Social support was assessed using validated instruments Social Support Index (SSI); direct questions were asked about their mistreatment since age 60 using the modified Vulnerability to Abuse Screening Scale (VASS). Results: EM was found in 35% of the participants. After adjusting for potential confounding factors, several factors were associated with a lower risk of mistreatment: having someone to listen to and talk to (OR = 0.18, 95% CI, 0.08-0.39), having someone to get you good advice from (OR = 0.15 (0.07-0.34)), having someone to show love and affection to (OR = 0.30 (0.12-0.75)), having someone available who can help with daily chores (OR = 0.43 (0.22-0.85)), having contact with someone they can trust and confide in (OR = 0.08 (0.03-0.23)), and having someone they can count on for emotional support (OR = 0.11 (0.04-0.28)). Regarding total social support scores (range 1-32), every point higher in social support was associated with a 6% lower risk for EM (OR = 0.94 (0.91-0.97)). Greater social support was associated with a 59% lower risk for EM (OR = 0.41 (0.19-0.90)). Conclusion: Greater social support may be a protective factor against EM in this population. Prospective studies are needed to confirm this finding. Interventions that improve social support may prevent EM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-388
Number of pages8
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2008


  • Chinese population
  • Elder mistreatment
  • Social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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