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Elder Abuse: Consequences

Prevalence of Elder Abuse

The true incidence of elder abuse is difficult to determine. Findings from the National Elder Abuse Incidence Study (NEAIS)—a seminal study conducted in 1996—indicate that roughly 551,000 persons age 60 and older experienced elder abuse, neglect, or self-neglect in domestic settings (National Center on Elder Abuse 1998).

Of these cases, only 21% (about 115,000) were reported to and substantiated by Adult Protective Service (APS) agencies; the remaining 79% were either not reported to APS or not substantiated.

The best available estimate of prevalence suggests that between 1 and 2 million residents of the United States age 65 or older have been abused, neglected, or exploited by persons on whom they depended for care or protection (National Research Council 2003).

Consequences of Elder Abuse

The possible physical and psychosocial consequences of elder abuse are numerous and varied. Few studies have examined the consequences of elder abuse and distinguished them from those linked to normal aging (National Research Council 2003; Wolf 1997; Wolf et al 2002).

Physical Effects

The most immediate probable physical effects include:

  • welts, wounds, and injuries (e.g., bruises, lacerations, dental problems, head injuries, broken bones, pressure sores);
  • persistent physical pain and soreness;
  • nutrition and hydration issues;
  • sleep disturbances;
  • increased susceptibility to new illnesses (including sexually transmitted diseases);
  • exacerbation of preexisting health conditions; and
  • increased risks for premature death.

(Anetzberger 2004; American Medical Association 1990; Lachs et al 1998; Lindbloom et al. 2007)

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Psychological Effects

Established psychological effects of elder abuse include higher levels of distress and depression (Comijs et al 1999; Pillemer & Prescott 1989).

Other potential psychological consequences that need further scientific study are:

  • increased risks for developing fear/anxiety reactions,
  • learned helplessness, and
  • post traumatic stress syndrome.

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American Medical Association. 1990. American Medical Association white paper on elderly health. Report of the Council on Scientific Affairs. Arch Intern Med;150:2459–2472.

Anetzberger G. 2004. The clinical management of elder abuse. New York: Hawthorne Press.

Lachs MS, Williams CS, O’Brien S, et. al. 1998. The mortality of elder mistreatment. JAMA;280:42832.

Lindbloom EJ, Brandt J, Hough, L., Meadows SE. 2007. Elder mistreatment in the nursing home: A systematic review. J Am Med Dir Assoc;8(9 ):610–616.

National Center on Elder Abuse. 1998. National elder abuse incidence study: final report. Washington DC: American Public Human Services Association.

National Research Council. 2003. Elder mistreatment: abuse, neglect, and exploitation in an aging America. In: Bonnie RJ. and. Wallace RB, editors. Panel to Review Risk and Prevalence of Elder Abuse and Neglect. Washington DC: The National Academies Press.

Wolf R, Daichman L, Bennett G. 2002. Abuse of the elderly. In: Krug E, Dahlberg L, Mercy J, Zwi A, Lozano R, editors. World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva: World Health Organization. p.123–146.

Wolf RS. 1997. Elder abuse and neglect: an update. Rev Clin Gerontol;7:177–182.


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