Elder abuse is unfortunately common, and up to 5 million elderly people suffer from abuse every year, according to the National Council on Aging. The top risk factors for elder abuse include social isolation, cognitive impairment, and physical dependency. There are also a few less-obvious risk factors — keep reading to learn more.
10 Risk Factors for Elder Abuse
If you know anyone with the following risk factors, be sure to familiarize yourself with the signs of elder abuse.
Elderly people who live alone or have limited social connections may be more vulnerable to abuse. A caregiver may be an elderly person’s only connection to the outside world, making it difficult to escape their control.
Older adults with dementia or other cognitive impairments may be at increased risk of abuse due to their diminished capacity to protect themselves or make sound judgments. Dementia also makes it difficult – even impossible – for the elderly person to report their abuse.
Elderly people who are physically dependent on others for care may be at higher risk of abuse. They may also be at a higher risk for elder neglect since elderly people often need regular physical help to maintain their hygiene and meet their nutritional needs. Elders with limited mobility are dependent on their caregivers to move regularly and avoid bedsores. Failure to attend to these basic needs is a common form of elder abuse.
Caregivers who are under a lot of stress or who lack necessary support may be more likely to engage in abusive behavior. Family caregivers with already strained relationships with the older person may be more likely to engage in abuse. Caregivers in understaffed nursing homes are more likely to engage in abuse and neglect.
Elderly people who have limited financial resources or are dependent on others for financial support may be more susceptible to financial abuse. If an elderly person lives with their caregiver, that caregiver might have unfettered access to private financial information. Financial abuse includes making unauthorized withdrawals, adding names to accounts without permission, and changing beneficiary statuses against the elderly person’s will. Proving financial exploitation may take some careful documentation and an elder abuse attorney.
Substance abuse by either the elderly person or their caregiver can increase the risk of abuse.
History of Family Violence
Older adults who have a history of family violence, whether as victims or perpetrators, may be more likely to experience abuse.
Lack of Awareness
Older adults who are not aware of their rights or who lack education about how to protect themselves may be more vulnerable to abuse.
Reliance on Family
Elderly people who rely on family members for care may be less likely to report their family members for abuse.
Older adults who reside in institutions such as nursing homes or assisted living facilities may be at higher risk of abuse due to factors such as understaffing or inadequate training of nursing home staff. Nursing home neglect may be the result of poor management, or in some Medicare abuse cases, outright fraud.
- A study from the World Health Organization found that 64% of nursing home staff admitted to perpetrating some form of abuse.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has also heightened concerns about abuse and neglect in nursing homes, as many facilities were understaffed and overwhelmed with caring for residents during the crisis.
Who is Most Likely to Abuse the Elderly?
In addition to the risk factors for abuse, elders are more likely to experience abuse from distinct groups of people. Studies of the elderly reveal the following categories of people who are more likely to engage in elder abuse.
- Family Members: According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, family members (including adult children, spouses, and other relatives) are the most common perpetrators of elder abuse, accounting for nearly 60% of all cases.
- Caregivers: Paid caregivers, such as home health aides or nursing home staff, can also be perpetrators of elder abuse. This can occur due to a variety of factors, such as inadequate training, understaffing, and high levels of stress and burnout.
- Scammers and Financial Predators: Older adults are also vulnerable to financial exploitation, including scams and frauds perpetrated by strangers or acquaintances who may take advantage of their cognitive or physical limitations.
- Individuals with Substance Abuse Problems: Individuals with substance abuse problems may be more likely to abuse the elderly, particularly if they are financially dependent on them or have a history of violence.
- Individuals with a History of Violence: People who have a history of violence or criminal behavior may be more likely to abuse the elderly.
How Do I Prevent Elder Abuse?
Prevent elder abuse by paying close attention to elderly people who have any of the risk factors listed above. Learn how to identify the signs of elder abuse and do not delay reporting to the relevant authorities. If you suspect elder abuse, report it to local Adult Protective Services.