Preventing Elder Abuse & Mistreatment

Photo of Elderly woman

As legendary actor Mickey Rooney said in his testimony before the Senate Committee on Aging on March 2, 2011, “I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated. But above all, I felt helpless. For years I suffered silently, unable to muster the courage to seek the help I knew I needed.” 1 Under the alleged power and control of his stepchildren, the psychological consequences have been devastating, his dignity stolen, and more than $400,000 is missing, as are Rooney’s Oscar and Emmy.2

Imagine [due to elder abuse]

  • suffering in silence
  • having such shame and humiliation you feel you cannot even tell your friends or family
  • living in fear and waiting for the next indignity to occur.

Unfortunately, an estimated one in seven older people need not imagine, as they will experience abuse, exploitation or neglect at some time during their so called Golden Years. “Elder Abuse is the violation of human rights and a significant cause of injury, illness, lost productivity, isolation and despair.”3 Elder abuse refers to “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action occurring within a relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.” 4

Elder abuse is a misunderstood and underreported problem that affects the body, mind and spirit. Elder abuse and mistreatment is considered a serious public health problem and the effects of elder abuse often exacerbate physical and mental health conditions.5,6 The anxiety produced as a result of [elder] abuse may impair a victim’s abilities to carry out routine tasks or activities of daily living to an extent that personal health and safety are threatened.7 In addition, alleged victims lose their dignity, find themselves in a daily fight for their survival, and experience a quality of life that is often best described as marginal existence.8 In addition, abuse victims are two times more likely of dying within a year of the abuse.9

Facts About Elder Abuse

To illuminate the significance and scope of the problem, we share the following facts:    

  • America’s older adult population, defined as people ages 65 and older, is growing at record rates. For many older people, the prospect of an extended life means additional suffering and hardship due to abuse or neglect.10   
  • With an estimated 80% of older people (aged 65+) having one or more chronic illness,11 a large number of elderly are vulnerable to experiencing physical and cognitive limitations. Such limitations increase risk of abuse and mistreatment.
  • Approximately 40% of older people are dependent on others for assistance to carry out activities associated with daily living.12 The dependency on others increases the potential for abuse and exploitation. 
  • According to a study published by the University of Chicago, “About 13 percent of elderly Americans are mistreated, most commonly by someone who verbally mistreats or financially takes advantage of them.”13 These findings are more than four times higher than the previous incidence estimates.14, 15
  • Findings from the New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study indicate “…elder abuse is far more rampant than previously known: for all types of elder abuse, there are 23.5 unreported cases to every one case reported to any agency. …Because the study did not include older persons who could not participate in a telephone survey, the actual prevalence of elder abuse in the total older population may be even higher”.16
  • People age 60 and older are commonly subjected to abuse by their spouse/domestic partner, adult children and grandchildren. “How quickly the relationship changes…”.17 Criminal justice studies indicate that two-thirds of abuse victims in the U.S. are women and approximately 90% of elder abuse is domestic [occurs in the home]. 18
  • “Abuse in later life occurs when an older person is subjected to a pattern of coercive behaviors used to gain and maintain power and control perpetrated by a family member or someone with whom the elder has an ongoing relationship. It is the intersection between elder abuse and domestic violence”.19


  1. ABC News. (2011, March 2). Mickey Rooney Abused?  
  2. Ibid.
  3. World Health Organization (2002). Toronto declaration on the global prevention of elder abuse. Page 4.
  4. Ibid. Page 3.
  5. Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (2009). Health and Abuse: Does Abuse and Neglect Affect Older Adult’s Health?
  6. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC-EM]. (2008). Understanding Elder Maltreatment – Fact Sheet.
  7. Gill, T. (2009). Elder self-neglect: Medical emergency or marker of extreme vulnerability? Journal of American Medical Association, 302(5), 570-571.
  8. Steinman, K. & Sahr, T.R. (2008). White paper on improving family violence prevention in Ohio. Health Policy Institute of Ohio.
  9. Schmitt, R. (2009, November, 23). Congress Targets Senior Abuse.
  10. National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence. (2010). Facts about elder abuse.      
  11. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2007). Healthy aging at a glance.
  12. Administration on Aging. (2009). A profile of older Americans: 2009.
  13. University of Chicago. News Release. (2008). More than 10 percent of older Americans suffer mistreatment, University of Chicago study shows.
  14. National Center on Elder Abuse. Fact Sheet. (2005). Incidence and prevalence of elder abuse.
  15. Pillemer, K. A., & Finkelhor, D. (1988).  The prevalence of elder abuse: A random sample survey. Gerontologist, 28(1), 51-57.
  16. National Center on Elder Abuse. (2010). Groundbreaking Study of Elder Abuse Prevalence in New York State Released at Elder Abuse Summit. E-news, 13, 6, 3.
  17. Breton, T. (2008, November 30). Study of elder abuse in R.I. women reveals surprising discoveries. The Providence Journal.
  18. Ibid
  19. National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life. (2003). Frequently asked questions about abuse in later life.