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We have all heard about cases of child abuse and spouse abuse, but elder abuse tends not to draw much attention.

As the “Baby Boomer” generation ages, it makes sense that the number of elder abuse cases will increase.

This article shares information from national elder abuse studies to show the approximate size of the problem, why we know so little about it, and what people can do to help stop elder abuse.

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) reports that by 2050, the US population of people age 65 and older will have grown from 13% of the total population to 20% from 2010.

The agency reports that the age 85 and older population will have grown during that time from 5.8 million people to 19 million people.

Elder abuse often goes unreported and, therefore, we lack accurate statistics to measure the problem, but the NCEA statistical report cites these study results as evidence of the problem’s scope:

  • Major elder abuse case showed that 7.6%–10% of study participants experienced abuse in the prior year, and 9 of 10 adults experiencing abuse experienced financial abuse.
  • State Adult Protective Services (APS) agencies see an increasing trend in reported elder abuse.
  • 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.

NCEA reports, “In the only national study that attempted to define the scope of elder abuse, the vast majority of abusers were family members (approximately 90%), most often adult children, spouses, partners, and others.” The agency adds, “Family members who abuse drugs or alcohol, who have a mental/emotional illness, and who feel burdened by their caregiving responsibilities abuse at higher rates than those who do not.”

The statistical report says,

“Elders who experienced abuse, even modest abuse, had a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who had not been abused. Research has also shown that victims of elder abuse have had significantly higher levels of psychological distress and lower perceived self-efficacy than older adults who have not been victimized. In addition, older adults who are victims of violence have additional health care problems than other older adults, including increased bone or joint problems, digestive problems, depression or anxiety, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and heart problems.”

“The impact of abuse, neglect, and exploitation also has a profound fiscal cost. The direct medical costs associated with violent injuries to older adults are estimated to add over $5.3 billion to the nation’s annual health expenditures, and the annual financial loss by victims of elder financial exploitation were estimated to be $2.9 billion in 2009, a 12% increase from 2008.”

NCEA encourages people to help stop elder abuse on its Suspect Abuse webpage with these action steps:

  • Learn when and how to report abuse
  • Get help for commonly seen “tricky situations” involving possible abuse of elders and adults with disabilities
  • Learn about the agencies and organizations that respond to reports of abuse
  • Learn what some communities and multidisciplinary teams are doing to prevent abuse from occurring
  • Explore how the many fields and organizations that serve elders and adults with disabilities may play a role in abuse intervention and prevention
  • To learn how to prevent abuse through volunteerism and raising awareness, visit the Make a Difference section.

We extend special thanks to Carol Marak, Aging Advocate for Seniorcare.com, for her help in updating this article’s links to NCEA’s website. Carol has written a helpful guide for recognizing the signs of elder abuse on the Seniorcare.com Website.

Signs of Elder Abuse

Jeff R. Hawkins and Jennifer J. Hawkins are Trust & Estate Specialty Board Certified Indiana Trust & Estate Lawyers and active members of the Indiana State Bar Association and National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Both lawyers are admitted to practice law in Indiana, and Jeff Hawkins is admitted to practice law in Illinois. Jeff is also a registered civil mediator, a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the Indiana Bar Foundation;  a member of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Indiana Association of Mediators; and he was the 2014-15 President of the Indiana State Bar Association.

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