When a caregiver fails to meet the needs of an elderly person who cannot care for themselves, neglect can result. Sometimes the caregiver may withhold nourishment, medications, or even hygiene, leaving the elderly person in serious danger.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hundreds of thousands of seniors are intentionally neglected by family members and caregivers each year. Many victims are people who cannot help themselves and depend on others to meet their most basic needs.
Neglect occurs when a caregiver does not provide for an elder's safety or for their 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 their personal hygiene needs, or forcing them 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 the social contact, activities, and information necessary for an elder to thrive.
Self-neglect is one of the most common forms of elderly abuse and neglect. Self-neglect occurs when an elderly person engages in behavior that threatens their own safety, such as failing to provide themselves with adequate food, water, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medication (when indicated), and safety precautions.
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.
According to the CDC, one in 10 elderly persons reported physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or potential neglect in 2008. However, many of these cases are not reported, because the elderly person is unwilling or unable to tell family, friends, or authorities about their experiences.
Additional research reveals the following disturbing findings:
- 551,011 persons age 60 and older experienced abuse, neglect, and/or self-neglect 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 be just the beginning. Studies suggest that 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 are unreported than are reported to and substantiated by Adult Protective Services agencies.
- One-year prevalence of emotional abuse is 4.6 percent, 1.6 percent for physical abuse, 0.6 percent for sexual abuse, 5.1 percent for potential neglect, and 5.2 percent for current financial abuse by a family member. Overall, 10 percent of respondents report emotional, physical, or sexual mistreatment, or potential neglect in a given year.
- Persons age 80 years and older suffer abuse and neglect at a rate two to three times greater than their proportion of the older population.
- The great majority of abusers are family members, most often an adult child or spouse. A family member is the perpetrator of abuse or neglect in 90 percent of reported cases. Two-thirds of the perpetrators are adult children or spouses.
- 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.