Association between elder abuse and telomere shortening in older adults: A 2-year prospective study

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2021 Jan;36(1):54-63. doi: 10.1002/gps.5390. Epub 2020 Aug 23.


Backgrounds: Elder abuse is a public health issue associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Its impact on victims' health at the cellular level, however, remains unknown. This study assessed the association between abuse exposure and shortening of telomere length (TL), a promising molecular marker for biological aging, in older victims.

Setting: The geriatric departments of three Grade-A hospitals in the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Participants: Six hundred Chinese older adults, including 300 abused victims and 300 non-abused controls were randomly drawn respectively from a larger sample of 467 abused and 518 non-abused older adults recruited at baseline. Participants were assessed for physical and psychological abuse exposure at baseline between September 2015 and February 2016 and assessed for TL 2 years after the abuse assessment.

Measurements: TL was quantified using a quantitative PCR method and expressed as T/S ratio (the ratio of telomere repeat copy numbers to single-copy gene numbers). Physical and psychological abuse was measured using the Revised Conflicts Tactics Scale.

Results: Adjusting for demographic, medical, and behavioral confounders, physical and psychological abuse exposure at baseline were independently associated with shorter TL at follow-up. The association was the most significant between multiple forms of abuse (physical and psychological) exposure and shorter TL.

Conclusion: This study provides the first evidence on the relationship between abuse and shortened TL in older victims, implying the potential effect of elder abuse on accelerated cellular aging. The findings suggest the importance of routinely assessing and intervening abuse in older adults by healthcare professionals, to promote and maintain physical health in older adults.

Keywords: Chinese; biological aging; elder abuse; older adults; telomere shortening.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • China / epidemiology
  • Elder Abuse*
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Telomere / genetics
  • Telomere Shortening*