Every person-every man, woman, and child-deserves to be treated with respect and with caring.
Every person-no matter how young or how old-deserves to be safe from harm by those who live with them, care for them, or come in day-to-day contact with them.
Older people today are more visible, more active, and more independent than ever before. They are living longer and in better health. But as the population of older Americans grows, so does the hidden problem of elder abuse, exploitation, and neglect.
Every year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological, or other forms of abuse and neglect. Those statistics may not tell the whole story. For every case of elder abuse and neglect that is reported to authorities, experts estimate that there may be as many as five cases that have not been reported. Recent research suggests that elders who have been abused tend to die earlier than those who are not abused, even in the absence of chronic conditions or life threatening disease.
Like other forms of abuse, elder abuse is a complex problem, and it is easy for people to have misconceptions about it. Many people who hear "elder abuse and neglect" think about older people living in nursing homes or about elderly relatives who live all alone and never have visitors. But elder abuse is not just a problem of older people living on the margins of our everyday life. It is right in our midst:
- Most incidents of elder abuse don’t happen in a nursing home. Occasionally, there are shocking reports of nursing home residents who are mistreated by the staff. Such abuse does occur-but it is not the most common type of elder abuse. At any one time, only about 4 percent of older adults live in nursing homes, and the vast majority of nursing home residents have their physical needs met without experiencing abuse or neglect.
- Most elder abuse and neglect takes place at home. The great majority of older people live on their own or with their spouses, children, siblings, or other relatives-not in institutional settings. When elder abuse happens, family, other household members, and paid caregivers usually are the abusers. Although there are extreme cases of elder abuse, often the abuse is subtle, and the distinction between normal interpersonal stress and abuse is not always easy to discern.
- There is no single pattern of elder abuse in the home. Sometimes the abuse is a continuation of long-standing patterns of physical or emotional abuse within the family. Perhaps, more commonly, the abuse is related to changes in living situations and relationships brought about by the older person’s growing frailty and dependence on others for companionship and for meeting basic needs.
- It isn’t just infirm or mentally impaired elderly people who are vulnerable to abuse. Elders who are ill, frail, disabled, mentally impaired, or depressed are at greater risk of abuse, but even those who do not have these obvious risk factors can find themselves in abusive situations and relationships.
Elder abuse, like other forms of violence, is never an acceptable response to any problem or situation, however stressful. Effective interventions can prevent or stop elder abuse. By increasing awareness among physicians, mental health professionals, home health care workers, and others who provide services to the elderly and family members, patterns of abuse or neglect can be broken, and both the abused person and the abuser can receive needed help.