Whether it's 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 who depend on others to meet their most basic needs are abused, neglected, or exploited.
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 form of abuse, in which the resources of an elderly person are used without his or her 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 estimates, 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:
- emotional abuse, 4.6 percent
- physical abuse, 1.6 percent
- sexual abuse, 0.6 percent
- potential neglect, 5.1 percent
- current financial abuse by a family member, 5.2 percent
- Overall, 10 percent of respondents report emotional, physical, or sexual mistreatment, or potential neglect in a given year.
- 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.