Frequency estimates regarding the abuse of the elderly range from 2-10 percent, depending on how the study was conducted.
- Only about one out of every 14 incidents of elder abuse (including self-neglect) in domestic settings actually come to the attention of local or state authorities.
- Only one out of every 25 cases of financial exploitation are reported. These unreported incidents would increase the amount to 5 million victims of financial exploitation per year (2).
- Another study out of the National Elder Abuse Incidence Study indicated that about 20 percent of cases of neglect, exploitation, abuse or self-neglect are reported.
- In 1996, about 450,000 US adults who were 60 years of age or older suffered from some kind of abuse or neglect in home settings. When cases of self-neglect were factored in, the incidence of elder abuse rose to about 551,000 cases, according to the National Elder Abuse Incidence Study.
- According to Long-Term Care Ombudsman programs in 2003, there were more than 20 thousand complaints of exploitation, neglect and abuse coming from nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The most common type of abuse reported was physical abuse.
- The most recent studies indicate that 7-10 percent of the elderly suffered from at least one episode of abuse within the past year. Ten percent were cases unrelated to financial exploitation.
There were much higher investigation rates in states that require mandatory reporting by doctors, nurses and other health professionals. This was based on a report out of the American Journal of Public Health in 2003. In the year 2000, each state was asked to state the number of elder abuse cases for which the most recent data were available. The total number of cases was about 472,000.
The 2010 census shed further light on the problem. According to the census report, about 13 percent of the population was found to be older than 65 years of age. This is the greatest proportion of people in that age group since the census was taken. This number is expected to rise as the Baby Boomers age.
By 2050, 20 percent of all people will be 65 years of age or older. The population group growing the fastest included those who were older than 85 years of age. In 2010, there were about 5.8 million people older than 85 years of age. This number is projected to increase to 19 million by the year 2050.
How Big is the Problem of Elder Abuse?
Mistreatment of the elderly is defined as undertaking intentional actions that result in the harm or risk of harm to an elderly person by a trusted person or caregiver of an elderly person (1). Mistreatment can be defined as acts of commission or acts of omission, which is the same thing as neglect.
While not much is definitively known about how many elderly people are being abused, it appears that elderly women are abused at a higher frequency than men. People who are above the age of 80 stand a greater chance of being abused compared to “younger” old people (ages 65-80).
The signs of abuse of the elderly might go undetected by health professionals caring for older people because they lack the training necessary to detect this form of abuse. There is also a reluctance on the part of the elderly to report their own abuse because they fear retribution or they lack the physical or cognitive ability to file a report.
About 90 percent of perpetrators of elder abuse are family member, including spouses, adult children, partners and other relatives. The incidence of abuse is higher if the family member suffers from drug or alcohol abuse, have some type of mental illness, or feel burdened by the care of their loved ones.
“Ninety percent of abusers are family members and generally, the elderly do not want to see their loved ones get into trouble.”
Data from Adult Protective Services in each state indicate that there is a trend toward greater reporting of elder abuse. Each state has its own Adult Protective Services and some states have mandatory reporting laws regarding elder abuse. Even so, many cases of exploitation, neglect, and abuse are not detected or treated.
Significant financial exploitation occurs at a rate of about 41 out of every 1,000 individuals surveyed. This was higher than the rates of neglect as well as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
Dementia and Abuse of the Elderly
According to research, dementia is a risk factor for abuse. About 5.1 million elderly people in the US have some degree of dementia, which constitutes nearly half of all people older than age 85.
The number of Alzheimer’s cases are expected to rise by the year 2025. A study showed that 47 percent of patients with dementia suffered from some kind of abuse.
Abuse in Long-Term Care Facilities and Nursing Homes
Elder abuse occurs in both home settings and institutional settings. The available research indicates the following:
- About 3.2 million U.S. citizens lived in nursing facilities in 2009.
- A study of 2,000 nursing facility residents indicated an abuse rate of 44 percent and a neglect rate of 95 percent.
- Complaints of abuse, exploitation or neglect accounted for 7 percent of complaints given to Ombudsmen at long-term care facilities.
Elder Abuse Is A Growing Danger
As elder abuse is a “silent condition”, as no one knows exactly how many of our nation’s elderly are being exploited, neglected or abused. Evidence suggests that there are thousands of elderly people being harmed in the U.S. every day, but no official statistics exist.
Part of the problem is that there it is unclear exactly what acts or omissions constitute abuse and the rate of reporting is low (2). There is also no collection of comprehensive national data, as each state collects data on elder abuse differently.
A study by the US General Accountability Office in 2008 indicated that surveys put out by states do not reflect the total problem occurring in licensed nursing facilities.
Seventy percent of state surveys will miss a nursing home deficiency and 15 percent of surveys miss incidences of immediate jeopardy or harm to a nursing facility resident.