Sad but true, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. One study estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities. Estimates range as high as 5 million elders abused each year. Even though a growing number of older adults are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, assessing that number and who they are, is difficult to identify.
The U.S. Department of Justice Community-Oriented Policing Services describes the breadth & depth of the problem and why measuring that number is difficult to accurately ascertain. One initial, unresolved issue is how to best to define “elderly.” While age 65 and above is commonly used to define “elderly,” this definition varies across different studies, state laws, and service providers such as Adult Protective Services.
Another concern is that a single category of “elderly” is too broad no matter the age demarcation determined. Some states do not have an “elder abuse” law. Instead the law provides for protection of adults age 18+ “who because of a mental or physical dysfunction cannot carry out the activities of daily living or protect themselves from others who may abuse, neglect, or exploit them.”
According to Adult Protection Services, “The vulnerability of the alleged victim is a paramount consideration in screening and determining who is eligible for APS investigation.” In states where non-fatal crimes against elderly victims have been recorded, data shows that victimization of older adults spans all types of crime.
According to a National Criminal Victimization Survey (NCVS), in comparison to other age groups, older adults have the lowest reported victimization rates. This is so despite the fact that “isolation, reliance on caregivers, and decreased physical or mental capacity can increase older people’s exposure to physical and mental abuse.”
The survey indicates that older adults, especially those nearing retirement or otherwise viewed as having resources to exploit, are prime targets for these crimes. There is widespread agreement among senior advocacy agencies that elder fraud is dramatically under-reported.
A 2015 True Link Report on Elder Finance Abuse revealed that “seniors lose over $36 billion each year to financial abuse, more than twelve times what was previously reported.” Despite what is known, national research estimates report that as few as 1 in 25 exploitation cases are ever reported to APS and other authorities. What is even more alarming are the results of research indicating that adult children and relatives comprise over 50% of perpetrators of all types of maltreatment including exploitation.
According to Adult Protection Services, “when we think of adult maltreatment or abuse, neglect, and exploitation of the elderly and disabled, we need to consider the persons that have access, who may be in a position to foster dependence, isolate, control, or manipulate the adult and their environment. Most often these are familial relationships that again are largely undetected and under-reported.”
Elder abuse is often a silent crime. Many of us never see it because most victims are abused behind closed doors. Too often, those who witness elder abuse are apathetic, choosing not to get involved, saying, “it’s none of my business.”
Abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation are not just a victim issue, but everyone’s issue. If you suspect elder abuse, you are legally required to report it. It is a felony not to report evidence of a felony. You may anonymously call the 24-hour toll-free hotline (800)-799-SAFE.
Join me in making a difference in people’s lives and you’ll find yourself making a difference in your own.