Elder Abuse Facts

What is known about elder abuse and nursing home neglect is frightening

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), no one knows precisely how many older Americans are being abused, neglected, or exploited. This is because there are no official national statistics.

Adding to the problem, there are no federal standards that govern residential care facilities, which are known by more than 30 different names across the country, perhaps most commonly as assisted living facilities.

In her testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance in June 2002, Catherine Hawes, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management School or Rural Public Health at Texas A&M University system Health Science Center, pointed out that there has never been a systematic study of the prevalence of abuse in nursing homes. She said much of what we know is based on individual stories or focus group interviews with residents and families.

But what we do know is frightening.

  • According to the best available estimates, between 1 and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been injured, exploited or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection.
  • Only 1 in 14 incidents of elder abuse in domestic settings come to the attention of authorities.
  • For every one case of elder abuse, neglect, exploitation, or self-neglect reported to authorities, about five more go unreported.

The major types of elder abuse are physical abuse, which includes inappropriate use of drugs and physical restraints; sexual abuse; emotional or psychological abuse, which, in addition to verbal attacks or intimidation includes enforced social isolation and treating an older person like an infant; neglect; abandonment; and financial or material exploitation.

In 2003, state Long Term Care Ombudsman programs nationally investigated 20,673 complaints of abuse, gross neglect, and exploitation on behalf of nursing home and board and care residents. Physical abuse was the most common type reported.

Another study released in 2001 reported that based on information collected between January 1999 and January 2000 by a nursing home complaint database, 10 percent of nursing homes in the U.S. were cited for abuse violations that caused actual harm to residents or placed them in immediate jeopardy of death or serious injury.