Special Feature: Elder Abuse
Elder abuse represents a serious public safety and health concern.
For the first time in U.S. history, older adults over age 65 are projected to outnumber children under age 18 by 2035. The number of older adults in the United States is projected to reach nearly 95 million by 2060. 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.
The full extent of elder abuse is uncertain. However, a nationally representative study funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and conducted in 2008 found that approximately one in 10 elders reported experiencing at least one form of elder mistreatment in the past year.
Overall, elder abuse covers a wide range of crimes committed against older adults. This includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse; neglect; and financial exploitation.
Financial exploitation in older adults poses a serious problem. Seniors are targeted over the telephone, through the mail, and online in scams involving fraudsters posing as Internal Revenue Service agents, sweepstakes scams, and other schemes to defraud them. However, financial exploitation is not always perpetrated by strangers, it can also involve family members or caregivers.
To help identify financial exploitation among older adults, NIJ-funded researchers found that computer models were effective in identifying financial exploitation and its subtypes. This study demonstrated an innovative way to leverage administrative data to understand patterns of financial exploitation.
NIJ-supported research has also shown elder abuse to be a significant risk factor for a range of negative outcomes, including emergency room visits, death, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and loneliness. Researchers found that elder mistreatment has a long lasting impact on a range of health and mental health issues, but the level of social support someone perceives to have in their life seems to be protective against the effects of elder abuse.
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 since the person abusing them is often 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 response, the Office for Victims of Crime sponsored an online guide to developing elder abuse case review Multidisciplinary Teams (MDTs). While there is no one model for an MDT that will be effective in all communities, this guide helps to lead the complex response necessary for elder abuse cases.
Visit the following pages for additional information and resources produced or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs and other federal agencies: