The National Center on Elder Abuse collects and analyses information about the incidence of elder abuse in the United States. The task is very difficult because there are inconsistencies about what constitutes elder abuse and about how to report it which vary from state to state. Understanding the magnitude of the problem of elder abuse is made worse because the majority of victims never make a report.
Senior citizens who are the victims of elder abuse may suffer beatings or other forms of physical abuse. They may be being emotionally or sexually abused. Some are the victims of exploitation or scams. Others do not get the care they need. Elder abuse can happen due to neglect or even abandonment. Most elderly people who are the victims of abuse are being harmed by their own adult children.
In 1996 the National Elder Abuse Incidence Study provided the first national statistic about the scope of this horrendous problem. It found that more than 500,000 Americans who were older than 60 had been victims of elderly abuse that year. As bad as this seems, it is estimated that only 16% of elderly abuse is ever reported. 84% of the elders who are abused suffer in secret. According to the Senate Special Committe on Aging, there may be as many as five million victims of elder abuse in this country every year.
The federal government defines elder abuse as a problem in the Federal Older Americans Act. This act also allocates money to the states to pay for services related to elder abuse. It also requires that each state run a Long Term Care Ombudsman Program so that senior citizens who live in nursing homes and other institutions can have advocates to report on and represent them if there are abuses perpetrated against them in the institution itself.
However, it remains very difficult to collect information about how much elder abuse is happening nationally. Since each state has its own Adult Protective Services Laws which define what constitutes elder abuse, the data from one state does not match similar data from another state if it uses different definitions. The reporting requirements also vary from state to state. Some states make it mandatory to report elder abuse. Others make it voluntary. This adds to the problem that the majority of elder abuse goes unreported. All of these factors make the task of gathering and analysing statistics about elder abuse very challenging.
If you are or know someone who is a victim of elder abuse, do not suffer in secret. Get help. If you are in immediate danger, call 911 and tell the police what is going on. To find out about where you can get help locally if you have questions or need advice, you can call the National Center on Elder Abuse at (800) 677-1116. Someone will answer the phone on a weekday between nine o'clock in the morning and eight o'clock at night.
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