13 February 2011

Elder Abuse as a Criminal Problem

Elder abuse and neglect is an understudied problem in the United States. Historically viewed as a social rather than a criminal problem, most States did not establish adult protective services units until the mid-1980s.

Full extent of elder abuse uncertain. Criminal justice researchers have generally paid little attention to elder abuse until recently. No uniform reporting system exists, and the available national incidence and prevalence data from administrative records are unreliable due to varying State definitions and reporting mechanisms. A 2007 nationally representative study of over 7,000 community residing elders estimated that approximately one in ten elders reported experiencing at least one form of elder mistreatment in the past year. See Extent of Elder Abuse for more from this study.

Research still is needed to determine the prevalence elder abuse, neglect and exploitation among elders with dementia and those residing in residential facilities, to identify risk factors for victimization, and to evaluate the efficacy of interventions.

No forensic guidelines. The lack of research on the forensic aspects of elder mistreatment is of particular concern to criminal justice practitioners. At present, the medical community cannot easily distinguish between those types of injuries that indicate abuse or neglect and those that are the natural effects of illness or aging. Few experts are available to testify in court and limited data exist to bolster cases brought into the system.

Extent of financial exploitation unknown. In addition, little is known about the financial exploitation of seniors in the United States, as these crimes are difficult to detect, definitions vary, and no national reporting mechanism now exists. Such cases are often not reported. Adding to the problem, some victims of financial exploitation may be unaware of being exploited owing to cognitive disabilities or dementia. Likewise, dependence on the perpetrator for care or shelter, fear of retaliation, or fear of the loss of independence if their exploitation should become known keeps many elders from reporting financial abuse.

Learn more about fraud and financial exploitation of the elderly


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