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Special Feature: Elder Abuse

elderly man

Elder abuse is a general term that covers a wide range of crimes committed against older adults. This includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse; neglect; and financial exploitation.

The NIJ-funded National Elder Mistreatment Study examined the prevalence of elder mistreatment and victimization among 7,000 elders and found that 11 percent reported experiencing at least one form of mistreatment in the previous year. The costs for victims of elder abuse can be devastating. Victims suffer from serious physical injuries, emotional pain, shame, depression, shattered trust, financial ruin, and an increased risk of mortality.

Unfortunately, elder abuse is not an easy problem to address. It is often underreported, with only 1 out of every 23 cases being reported to appropriate protective services. Victims may be afraid or unable to tell police, friends, or family about the violence. These victims often have to decide whether to tell someone they are being hurt or continue being abused by someone they depend upon or care for deeply. Results from the 2003-2013 National Crime Victimization Survey showed that nearly half of the elderly victims of violence knew their offenders.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that more than 62 million Americans will be age 65 or older in 2025, a 78 percent increase from 2001, and more than 7.4 million will be age 85 or older, a 68 percent increase. Aging is accompanied by changes in physical and mental health, making older adults particularly vulnerable to crime, abuse, and neglect. Isolation, memory loss, and a diminished cognitive ability make it even easier to defraud or coerce them.

To help with elder abuse case response, the Department of Justice, through its Elder Justice Initiative, launched an elder abuse case review toolkit, which encourages and facilitates the development and growth of multidisciplinary teams when it comes to elder abuse cases. The guide provides information about team structures and functions, along with common issues that arise with developing a case review team.

To learn more about different forms of elder abuse, what is being done to prevent and respond to cases, and to discover help that is available to victims, select a page from the "Elder Abuse" box for additional resources from the Office of Justice Programs and other federal sources.

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