Elder or Dependent Adult Neglect

Each year hundreds of thousands of seniors are neglected by family members and caretakers. Many victims are people who cannot help themselves and depend on others to meet their most basic needs.

Neglect is when a caregiver does not provide for an elder's safety, or for his or her physical and/or psychological needs. Physical neglect can mean failing to provide an elder with adequate and necessary medication or physical therapy, not taking care of an elder's personal hygiene needs, or forcing an elder to live in unsanitary or potentially harmful conditions. Psychological neglect can mean leaving an older person alone for long periods of time or failing to provide social contact, activities, or information.

According to Nursing magazine, nearly 50 percent of elder abuse cases are the result of neglect. While states define abuse differently, each one has passed some form of elder abuse prevention laws and established a reporting system. Generally, Adult Protective Services (APS) agencies receive and investigate reports of suspected elder abuse or neglect.

Research suggests that 700,000 to 1.2 million elderly people (i.e., 4% of all adults older than 65) are subjected to elder mistreatment in the United States and that there are 450,000 new cases annually.

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In 1996, Congress ordered the National Elder Abuse Incidence Study; its findings suggested that 500,000 elderly Americans are abused, neglected and exploited by family members each year. Reports to APS agencies of domestic elder abuse also increased 150 percent between 1986 and 1996. This increase dramatically exceeded the 10 percent increase in the older population over the same period.

Recent research has found the following:

  • 551,011 persons age 60 and older experienced abuse, neglect, and/or self-neglect (when a dependent adult does not obtain needed care) in a one-year period.
  • Conservative estimates put the number of elders who have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated at about 1 to 2 million. That may only be the "tip of the iceberg." Recent research suggests only 1 in 14 domestic elder abuse incidents comes to the attention of authorities.Almost four times as many new incidents of abuse, neglect, and/or self-neglect were unreported as those that were reported to and substantiated by Adult Protective Services agencies.
  • Persons age 80 years and older suffered abuse and neglect at a rate two to three times greater than their proportion of the older population.
  • Hard as it is to believe, the great majority of abusers are family members, most often an adult child or spouse.
  • Abuse can also occur at a long-term care facility, such as a nursing home or assisted-living residence. Employees and temporary staff who have direct contact with residents are the most frequent perpetrators. Other offenders may include other family and old friends, newly developed "friends" who intentionally prey on older adults, and service providers in positions of trust. A family member was the perpetrator of abuse or neglect in 90 percent of reported cases. Two-thirds of the perpetrators were adult children or spouses.
Elder or Dependent Adult Neglect. Last reviewed 12/31/1969