Risk and Protective Factors

Key points

  • Many factors can increase or decrease the likelihood of someone experiencing or perpetrating violence.
  • Risk factors can increase the risk of experiencing or perpetrating violence and protective factors can reduce the risk.
  • Preventing violence against older adults requires understanding and addressing risk and protective factors.

What are risk and protective factors?

Violence is not often caused by a single factor. Instead, a combination of factors at the individual, relationship, community, and societal levels can increase or decrease the risk of violence.

Risk factors are characteristics that may increase the likelihood of experiencing or perpetrating violence against older adults. However, they may or may not be direct causes.

Protective factors are characteristics that may decrease the likelihood of experiencing or perpetrating violence against older adults.

Understanding and addressing risk and protective factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.


Watch Moving Forward to learn more about how increasing what protects people from violence and reducing what puts people at risk for it benefits everyone.

Risk factors for perpetration

Individual risk factors

  • Current diagnosis of mental illness.1
  • Current or past abuse of drugs or alcohol.234
  • Current physical health problem.356
  • Past experience of disruptive behavior.2
  • Past experience of traumatic events.56
  • High levels of stress.17
  • Poor or inadequate preparation or training for caregiving responsibilities.4
  • Inadequate coping skills.3
  • Exposure to or witnessing abuse as a child.36
  • Social isolation.3

Relationship risk factors

  • High financial and emotional dependence upon a vulnerable elder.13
  • Past family conflict.6
  • Inability to establish or maintain positive prosocial relationships.3
  • Lack of social support.18

Societal risk factors

There are specific characteristics of institutional settings such as nursing homes and residential facilities that can increase the risk for perpetration including:

  • Staffing problems and lack of qualified staff.9
  • Staff burnout and stressful working conditions.9

Protective factors for victimization

Protective factors have not been studied as extensively as risk factors. However, identifying and understanding protective factors are equally as important as researching risk factors.

Individual protective factors

  • Emotional intelligence.10

Relationship protective factors

  • Having social support.8

Community protective factors

  • Sense of community, meaning, residents feel connected to each other and are involved in the community.11
  1. Johannesen M & LoGuidice D. Elder Abuse: A Systematic Review of Risk Factors in Community-dwelling Elders. Age and Ageing, 2013; 42(3), 292–298. https://doi.org/10.1093/ageing/afs195.
  2. Lachs MS, Pillemer KA. Elder abuse. The New England Journal of Medicine 2015; 373(20), 1947–1956. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMra1404688.
  3. Storey JE. Risk Factors for Elder Abuse and Neglect: A Review of the Literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior 2020; 50, 101339. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2019.101339.
  4. World Health Organization (2018, June 8). Elder abuse. Author. https://www.who.int/images/default-source/infographics/elder-abuse/elder-abuse-infographics-5-risk-factors.png?sfvrsn=531cd064_2.
  5. Acierno R, Hernandez MA, Amstadter AB, Resnick HS, Steve K, Muzzy W, Kilpatrick DG. Prevalence and Correlates of Emotional, Physical, Sexual, and Financial Abuse and Potential Neglect in the United States: The National Elder Mistreatment Study. American Journal of Public Health 2010; 100:292–7. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2009.163089.
  6. Wang XM, Brisbin S, Loo T, Straus S. Elder Abuse: An Approach to Identification, Assessment and Intervention. CMAJ Canadian Medical Association Journal 2015;187(8), 575–581. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.141329.
  7. Yon Y, Ramiro-Gonzalez M, Mikton C, Huber M, Sethi D. The Prevalence of Elder Abuse in Institutional Settings: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. European Journal of Public Health 2018; 29(1), 58-67. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/cky093
  8. Acierno R, Hernandez-Tejada MA, Anetzberger GJ, Loew D, Muzzy W. The National Elder Mistreatment Study: An 8-year longitudinal study of outcomes. Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect 2017; 29(4), 254–269. https://doi.org/10.1080/08946566.2017.1365031.
  9. Yongjie Yon, Maria Ramiro-Gonzalez, Christopher R Mikton, Manfred Huber, Dinesh Sethi, The prevalence of elder abuse in institutional settings: a systematic review and meta-analysis, European Journal of Public Health, Volume 29, Issue 1, February 2019, Pages 58–67, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/cky093.
  10. Mueller EA, Wood SA, Hanoch Y, Huang Y, Reed CL. Older and wiser: age differences in susceptibility to investment fraud: the protective role of emotional intelligence. J Elder Abuse Negl. 2020 Mar-May;32(2):152-172. doi: 10.1080/08946566.2020.1736704.
  11. Chang ES, Levy BR. High prevalence of elder abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic: risk and resilience factors. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2021; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jagp.2021.01.007.