Elder abuse is an under recognized problem with devastating and even life threatening consequences. The National Center on Elder Abuse states that only one in every 24 cases of elder abuse is reported to the authorities.
Elder Abuse: The Size of the Problem
Elder mistreatment (i.e. abuse and neglect) is defined as intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm (whether or not harm is intended) to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who stands in a trust relationship to the elder. This includes failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elder’s basic needs or to protect the elder from harm.
Unfortunately, we simply do not know for certain how many people are suffering from elder abuse and neglect. It appears that female elders are abused at a higher rate than males and that the older one is, the more likely one is to be abused.5
Signs of elder abuse may be missed by professionals working with older Americans because of lack of training on detecting abuse. The elderly may be reluctant to report abuse themselves because of fear of retaliation, lack of physical and/or cognitive ability to report, or because they don’t want to get the abuser (90% of whom are family members) in trouble.
Below is a sampling of findings that show what is known about the incidence and prevalence of elder abuse and neglect:
- The most recent major studies on incidence reported that 7.6%–10% of study participants experienced abuse in the prior year.6,7 The study that found an incidence of 1 in 10 adults experiencing abuse did not include financial abuse.
- Available data from state Adult Protective Services (APS) agencies show an increasing trend in the reporting of elder abuse.
- Despite the accessibility of APS in all 50 states (whose programs are quite different), as well as mandatory reporting laws for elder abuse in most states, an overwhelming number of cases of abuse, neglect, and exploitation go undetected and untreated each year.
- One study estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse ever comes to the attention of authorities. The New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study found that for every case known to programs and agencies, 24 were unknown.
- Major financial exploitation was self-reported at a rate of 41 per 1,000 surveyed, which was higher than self-reported rates of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect.
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