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Abuse, Elder

Abuse, Elder

Alternate Names

  • elder abuse
  • institutional abuse
  • domestic abuse


Elder abuse is the mistreatment of an older person. It may occur while the person is living alone, with others, or in an institution.
  • Domestic elder abuse refers to mistreatment by someone who has a special relationship with the elder. This person could be a spouse, sibling, child, friend, or other caregiver.
  • Institutional abuse refers to mistreatment of someone living in a facility for older persons. This includes nursing homes, foster homes, group homes, or board and care facilities where staff is paid to provide care.
  • Self-neglect occurs when the behavior of an older person living alone threatens his or her own health or safety.
  • Risks

    What are the causes and risks of the injury?

    A study by the National Center for Elder Abuse found there were nearly 300,000 reports of domestic elder abuse in 1996. This was a 150% increase over the previous 10 years! Plus, the study noted that for each incident reported, as many as another 13 may have gone unreported.
    Psychological, social, and economic factors all contribute to elder abuse. One or more of these issues may trigger it:
    • Caregiver stress. Caring for older, frail people can be time-consuming and very stressful. The stress is greater when the older person is mentally or physically impaired.
    • Cycle of violence. Some families act more violent than others. Violence is a learned behavior passed down from parents to children. In these families, abusive behavior is the normal response to tension or conflict. Spouses are also one of the most common elder abusers. In these cases, the elder abuse is often a continuation of a pattern of spousal abuse started years earlier.
    • Impaired mental or physical health. Elders in poor health are more likely to be abused than those in good health. Abuse tends to occur when an older person's mental or physical health worsens and stress rises.
    • Personal problems of the abuser. Adult children who abuse their parents may suffer from mental disorders, alcohol dependence, drug abuse or addiction, and financial problems. They may have just finished raising their children and now find themselves tied down again taking care of a parent.
    The typical victim of elder abuse is a widowed, white woman. In her mid-70s or older, she lives on a fixed income. However, it's vital to note that victims do not have to fit the typical picture. Elder abuse happens in all ethnic groups, races, and economic groups.
    The abuser is often a spouse or adult child. Two-thirds of abusers are family members, most of them serving in the caregiving role. Often, the victim does not report the abuse. He or she may:
    • fear revenge by the abuser
    • feel embarrassed
    • worry about being put into an institution


    What can be done to prevent the injury?

    Campaigns and education to raise awareness of the problem and its warning signs may help prevent elder abuse. Most states have a confidential hot line open 24 hours a day to report suspected abuse.
    People can help by:
    • asking directly about signs of possible abuse
    • supporting the victim and talking to help him or her feel less alone
    • showing concern, so that the person knows there is someone to turn to if he or she wants help


    How is the injury recognized?

    The signs listed above often point to elder abuse.


    What are the treatments for the injury?

    Treatment depends on the type of abuse. Any physical injuries should be treated. If possible, the victim needs to be separated from the abuser. Emergency care is provided when physical injuries have occurred.
    When suspected abuse is reported to the proper government agency for adult protective services, it will arrange to help protect the victim. Many different programs and services may be offered, such as:
    • respite care for the caregiver
    • adult day care
    • housing assistance
    • meal programs
    Untreated elder abuse may continue to grow worse. If the abuse is severe, it can lead to death.

    Side Effects

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    In cases of domestic abuse, an elder may need to leave the home. He or she may have to live with someone else or in a nursing home to be safe.

    After Treatment

    What happens after treatment for the injury?

    Once the abuse has been stopped, ongoing care of the elderly person continues in a safe place. Ongoing monitoring by the elderly person's doctor and the correct government agency should continue.


    "Abuse of the Elderly" [hyperLink url="" linkTitle="#xA;"][/hyperLink]

    "Is this Elder Abuse?" [hyperLink url="" linkTitle="#xA;"][/hyperLink]

    "Elder Abuse Prevention" [hyperLink url="" linkTitle="#xA;"][/hyperLink]

    "What is Elder Abuse?" [hyperLink url="" linkTitle="#xA;"][/hyperLink]

    National Center on Elder Abuse, 1225 I Street, N.W., Suite 725, Washington, D.C. 20005; (202) 898-2586 (voice)

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