Special Feature: Elder Abuse

elderly manThe U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that there are more than 46 million older adults – those age 65 and over – living in the United States. By 2050, the Census Bureau projects that this number will nearly double to 88 million.

Many envision older adulthood as an opportunity to pursue interests that they were unable to do earlier in life, perhaps due to financial or work responsibilities. But aging can be accompanied by changes in their physical and mental health. This makes 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.

Elder abuse is a general term that includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse; neglect; and financial exploitation. The costs for victims of abuse can be devastating. Victims of elder abuse can suffer from serious physical injuries, emotional pain and suffering, shame, depression, shattered trust, financial ruin, and an increased risk of mortality. Results from the NIJ-funded National Elder Mistreatment Study, which examined the prevalence of elder mistreatment and victimization among 7,000 elders, found that eleven percent of elders reported experiencing at least one form of mistreatment in the past year.

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. Elders 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.

To help with elder abuse case responses, the Department of Justice, through its Elder Justice Initiative, recently 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. This 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 of elder abuse, and to discover help that is available to victims, please select a page from the box under the "Elder Abuse" heading.