Blog Posts


October 24, 2015
Elder Abuse – A Rapidly Growing Societal Problem

Each year hundreds of thousands of older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited. Many victims are people who are older, frail, and vulnerable, cannot help themselves, and depend on others to meet their most basic needs. Abusers of older adults are both women and men, and may be family members, friends, or “trusted others.”

In general, elder abuse is a term referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. Legislatures in all 50 states have passed some form of elder abuse prevention laws. Laws and definitions of terms vary considerably from one state to another, but broadly defined, abuse may be:

  • Abandonment–desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
  • Emotional Abuse–inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts, e.g. humiliating, intimidating, or threatening.
  • Exploitation–the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
  • Neglect–the failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
  • Physical Abuse–inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior, e.g. slapping, bruising, or restraining by physical or chemical means.
  • Sexual Abuse–non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.

According to the Administrative Office of the Courts, the United States is aging at a rapid pace.  By 2030 a.d., there will be more persons in the U.S. under 65 years old than there will be under the age of 18.  This means by 2030, we will have 70 million seniors, more than twice the number nationwide in 1990.

California has the largest elderly population in the U.S. – nearly 4 million already.   This elderly, age-65-and-over population is growing at the rate of nearly 200,000 per year.  This means in the next 20 years, our elderly population will grow 101%.  By 2020 a.d., there will be 6.6 million elderly persons in California and of that, nearly 85 million will be at least 85 years old.

According to Bonnie and Wallace (2003) elder abuse is “Intentional act or actions that cause harm or create serious risk of harm, whether or not intended, to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who stands in a position of trust to the elder, or failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elder’s basic needs or to protect the elder from harm.  The abusive conduct may or may not be criminal in and of itself.   This definition excludes abuse by strangers, most frauds and scams, and also excludes self-neglect.

Actual numbers of elder abuse in the nation, or the state, are unknown.  But Desmarais and Reeves (2007), reviewed a number of studies and concluded that prevalence rates for elder abuse, annually, may be as much as 32%.  The studies further state that most elder abuse occurs in the community, not in facilities.  Authorities assert this type of abuse is largely underreported.

Given the reported numbers, and an estimate that, at a minimum, only 1 in 5 (perhaps as few as 1 in 14) elder abuse cases are reported… we have an epidemic on our hands.

Check in next week for my blog post describing the warning signs of elder abuse and judicial responses to this growing abusive trend.

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