Whether its physical, sexual, or emotional, elder abuse is a serious crime. A frail or disabled elderly person can also be abused through neglect and financial exploitation.
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:
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. Another study found that the one-year prevalence for abuse was the following: 4.6% for emotional abuse, 1.6% for physical abuse, 0.6% for sexual abuse, 5.1% for potential neglect, and 5.2% for current financial abuse by a family member. Overall, 10% of respondents report emotional, physical, or sexual mistreatment, or potential neglect in a given year.
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.
Spouses and adult children of elders are the most common abusers of family members. Generally, a combination of psychological, social and economic factors, along with the mental and physical conditions of the victim and the perpetrator, contribute to the occurrence of elder maltreatment. Although the factors listed below cannot explain all types of elder maltreatment because it is likely that different types (as well as each single incident) involve different casual factors, some of the causes researchers cite as important are:
In most jurisdictions, the APS, the Area Agency on Aging, or the county Department of Social Services is designated as the agency to receive and investigate allegations of elder abuse and neglect. If investigators find abuse or neglect, they make arrangements for services to help protect the victim.
The Area Agency on Aging operates an information and referral line for a wide range of services. If the elder is in immediate danger, call 911.
Older adults can take the following precautions to help keep themselves safe from abuse:
Other precautions to take to prevent elder abuse:
Last reviewed 05/18/2017