Each year hundreds of thousands of older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited by family members and others. Many victims are people who are older, frail, and vulnerable and cannot help themselves and depend on others to meet their most basic needs.
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 all states have set up reporting systems. Generally, adult protective services (APS) agencies receive and investigate reports of suspected elder abuse.
Recent surveys have found the following:
- There are presently about 39 million individuals over the age of 65; the U.S. Census Bureau projects that more than 62 million Americans will be 65 or older in 2025 (McCoy and Hansen, 2004).
- Older women (67%) are far more likely than men (32%) to suffer from abuse and slightly more than half of the alleged perpetrators of elder abuse were female (53%). (National Center on Elder Abuse Study, 2004).
- Twenty percent of elder abuse involved caregiver neglect; 15% centered on emotional, psychological, or verbal abuse; 15% involved financial exploitation; 11% was physical abuse, and 1% was sexual abuse (Teaster, National Center on Elder Abuse, 2006).
- In 2004, Adult Protective Services received a total of 565,747 reports of elder abuse for persons of all ages from 50 states, plus Guam and the District of Columbia, and investigated 461,135 reports. Of that number, APS substantiated 191,908 reports of elder abuse for victims of all ages, representing a 16% increase from the 2000 survey. (National Center on Elder Abuse Study, 2004).
- Because older victims usually have fewer support systems and reserves – physical, psychological, and economic – the impact of abuse and neglect is magnified, and a single incident of mistreatment is more likely to trigger a downward spiral leading to loss of independence, a serious complicating illness, and even death. (Burgess and Hanrahan, 2006).
- Of alleged perpetrators of elder abuse, 33% were adult children, 22% were other other family members; 16% were strangers, and 11% were spouses/intimate partners (Teaster, National Center on Elder Abuse, 2006).
Generally Accepted Definitions:
- Elder abuse – an umbrella 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.
- Physical abuse – inflicting, or threatening to inflict, physical pain or injury on a vulnerable elder, or depriving them of a basic need.
- Sexual abuse – the infliction of non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
- Emotional or psychological abuse – the infliction of mental or emotional anguish or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts.
- Financial or material exploitation – the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a vulnerable elder.
- Neglect – the refusal or failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
- Self-neglect – characterized as the behavior of an elderly person that threatens his/her own health or safety.
- Abandonment – the desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
Erie County Detectives have conducted numerous elder abuse investigations that have led to successful prosecutions in the Court of Common Pleas.