Elder or Dependent Adult Abuse

Each year hundreds of thousands of elderly people are abused, neglected and exploited. These victims are frail, vulnerable and cannot help themselves. They depend on others to meet their most basic needs. Elder abuse can fall under several categories:

  • Physical abuse is the willful infliction of physical pain or injury, such as slapping, bruising, sexually molesting, or restraining.
  • Psychological abuse is the infliction of mental or emotional anguish, such as humiliating or threatening.
  • Financial or material exploitation is another improper act, using the resources of an elderly person without his consent.
  • Neglect is the failure of a caretaker to provide goods or services necessary to avoid physical harm, mental anguish or illness.

While it is hard to estimate how many older persons are abused each year, one study suggests that 500,000 Americans are abused, neglected and exploited by family members and others. The study also estimated, however, that only about 16 percent of abuse cases are reported. The Senate Special Commission on Aging estimates that there may be as many as 5 million victims of elder abuse a year.

The study also found that domestic elder abuse has increased 150 percent. In addition:

  • 551,011 people, age 60 and over, experience abuse, neglect, and/or self-neglect in a one-year period.
  • The perpetrator was a family member in 90 percent of cases. Two-thirds of the perpetrators were adult children or spouses.

Legislatures in all 50 states have passed some form of elder abuse prevention laws. Laws and definitions of terms vary considerably from one state to another, but all states have set up reporting systems. Generally, adult protective services (APS) agencies receive and investigate reports of suspected elder abuse.

Elder or Dependent Adult Abuse. Last reviewed 12/31/1969
  • National Elder Abuse Incidence Study
  • Adult Protective Services
  • Elder Abuse Center
  • U.S. Administration on Aging
  • National Center on Elder Abuse
  • Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation in an Aging America. 2003. Washington, DC: National Research Council Panel to Review Risk and Prevalence of Elder Abuse and Neglect.
  • Wasik, John F. 2000. “The Fleecing of America’s Elderly,” Consumers Digest, March/April