Elder Abuse Statistics in the United States

How prevalent is elder abuse? Who is most vulnerable? Get an overview of relevant statistics so you know how to help.

Unfortunately, elder abuse is a severe issue in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elder abuse is causing or creating a risk of harm to someone age 60 or older by intentionally acting or failing to act. Elder abuse is often committed by a caregiver, family member or another person the elder trusts.

The most common types of elder abuse are:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional or psychological abuse
  • Neglect of basic needs
  • Financial abuse

10 percent of elders have suffered abuse

This article will review statistics regarding the prevalence of elder abuse and what you can do if you or a loved one has been the victim of elder abuse.

Notable Statistics:

  • Approximately 10% of older Americans have experienced some form of elder abuse.
  • Verbal abuse is the most common type of elder mistreatment.
  • Between 27.5% and 55% of people with dementia have suffered some kind of abuse.
  • One study found that 57.9% of the perpetrators of elder abuse were family members of the victim.

How Common Is Elder Abuse?

As part of its mission to improve the American response to elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, the National Center on Elder Abuse compiles statistical information from various research studies. One of these studies found that approximately 10% of elders have experienced neglect, financial exploitation, or some form of abuse.

How common is elder abuse

A 2011 study on the prevalence of elder abuse in New York estimated that about 1 in 13 (260,000) elders had experienced at least one form of abuse in the past year. The study also found that 41 of every 1,000 elders surveyed reported major financial exploitation, which is a higher rate than reported for neglect or emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.

In the 2009 study “Elder Mistreatment in the United States,” researchers found that 9% of subjects reported verbal abuse, 3.5% reported financial abuse and less than 1% reported physical mistreatment.

Due to the sensitive nature of this problem and the vulnerability of the population involved, most researchers believe that elder abuse is vastly underreported. However, data from state Adult Protective Services agencies shows that the number of elder abuse reports is growing. It’s unclear whether this is from a rise in abuse or reporting.

Risk Factors for Elder Abuse

Studies have also investigated various factors that place older adults to be at a higher risk of becoming the victims of elder abuse and neglect. The National Center on Elder Abuse reviewed a variety of studies and identified risk factors for all types of abuse.Risk factors for elder abuse

The risk factors for all abuse types are:

  • Low social support
  • Poor health and functional impairment
  • Women are more often abused than men
  • Younger age (late 50s and 60s)
  • Living with non-spouse household members
  • Low income or poverty

Some factors were only found to increase the risk of certain types of abuse. For example, a 2010 study found that previous traumatic experiences, including relationship violence, increased the risk for emotional, sexual and financial abuse.

A study on financial exploitation of older adults conducted in 2014 found certain things to be tied to elder financial abuse.

The factors associated with financial abuse are: 

  • Lack of social services
  • Needing assistance with Activities of Daily Living (ADL)
  • Poor health
  • Lack of spouse or partner
  • African-American race
  • Lower age

Dementia as a Risk Factor

Dementia is also considered a risk factor for elder abuse. In fact, prevalence rates for abuse and neglect in people with dementia range from 27.5% to 55%, putting them at a greater risk of elder abuse than older Americans without dementia.

Dementia as risk factor for abuse One study found that 47% of the dementia patients studied had been mistreated by their caregivers. Of those who were abused, 88.5% suffered psychological abuse, 19.7% suffered physical abuse and 29.5% suffered neglect. Another study found that nearly half of all people with dementia have been the victims of some type of abuse.

These studies are particularly concerning because approximately 5.1 million U.S. elders have dementia. Nearly 50% of Americans over the age of 85 have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another kind of dementia, and experts believe that by 2025, most states will see the incidence of Alzheimer’s increase even further.

Elder Abuse in Long-Term Care Facilities

Elder abuse in long-term care

Elder abuse can occur both in the home and in institutional settings such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other long-term care facilities. Physical abuse may be suffered at the hands of facility staff members, but some researchers have concluded that abuse by other residents is a more common problem than staff abuse.

As authorized by the Older Americans Act (OAA) of Title VII, each state has a Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program that helps resolve health and safety issues for people who live in residential care communities. Under the OAA, Ombudsman programs are responsible for investigating complaints made by or on behalf of residents.

According to National Ombudsman Reporting System data, 7.6% (14,258) of the approximately 188,599 complaints reported to Ombudsman programs in 2014 involved abuse, gross neglect, or exploitation.

Statistics on the Abusers

The 2015 study “Elder Abuse” found that the perpetrators of elder abuse were most likely to have certain attributes.

The perpetrators were most often:

  • Adult children or spouses of the abused
  • Male
  • A history of past or current substance abuse
  • Mental or physical health issues
  • A history of trouble with the police
  • Social isolation
  • Unemployed or struggling with financial difficulty
  • Experiencing significant stress

A 2014 study that investigated financial exploitation in a sample of 4,156 elders found that 57.9% of the perpetrators were family members, 16.9% were friends or neighbors and 14.9% were home care providers.

Who abuses the elderly Another study, in a sample of 5,777 older adults, found certain characteristics in a higher proportion of the perpetrators of physical abuse than emotional and sexual abusers.

The characteristics are:

  • Problems with the police
  • History of psychological treatment
  • Current substance use
  • Living with the victim
  • Relative of the victim

If you or someone you love has suffered elder abuse, you should contact the Adult Protective Services office closest to you.

In certain situations, you may also have a legal cause of action against the abuser. A local personal injury attorney can review your circumstances and help you understand your rights.

Amy Grover is a licensed attorney in the state of Ohio. After graduating magna cum laude from the University of Cincinnati College of Law, then passing the bar exam in 2014, Amy began her diverse career as a practicing attorney. Amy has a range of experience in the legal field, including work with the Department... Read More >>