The Effects of Elder Abuse & Neglect

Updated April 17, 2017

Medical, technological and lifestyle advancements enable longer lives than ever before -- yet increasing instances of elder abuse threaten the quality of those longer lives, resulting in physical, emotional and psychological damage for victims. As of 2009, the organisation Elder Justice Now reported that one in nine American senior citizens older than 60 have faced some form of elder maltreatment, which can include neglect, isolation, physical abuse, threats, ridicule, financial exploitation and more. 90 per cent of the time, the abuser is a family member, and only about one in six victims tend to report mistreatment on their own, according to Elder Justice Now.

Psychological Distress

Elderly people who suffer from abuse or neglect exhibit greater instances and higher levels of depression and psychological distress than their non-abused counterparts. Distress may include fear, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. However, social support can successfully help alleviate psychological distress. Although distressed abuse victims tend to have less social support than non-victims, the alleviating effect of such support systems are even more beneficial for distressed victims than for distressed non-victims.

Perceived Helplessness

As a result of their higher levels of psychological distress, elderly victims of maltreatment also exhibit lower levels of perceived self-efficacy and mastery, along with higher levels of alienation, guilt, shame and passiveness. However, the correlation between psychological distress and perceptions of low self-efficacy also exists for distressed non-victims, suggesting that the effect is not directly related to the abuse itself, but more closely connected with the psychological distress that results from any cause.

Physical Injury

Elderly victims of abuse and neglect are also prone to detrimental physical effects such as wounds, head injuries, dental problems, soreness, pain, dehydration, malnutrition and weight loss. Since their bones are more brittle, elder victims of abuse or neglect are especially susceptible to slow-healing bone injuries that could result in permanent damage. They may also experience trouble sleeping and greater flaring of pre-existing conditions as well as being prone to new health conditions.

Increased Mortality

Seniors who suffer from abuse are statistically three times more likely to experience death within the span of a decade than their non-abused counterparts of the same age. In a 1998 study, researchers from the Connecticut Department of Social Services, Cornell College, and Cornell and Yale universities analysed annual health data for almost 3,000 elderly people over the course of nine years. They found that 40 per cent of the non-abused individuals tracked were still living by the conclusion of the study, compared to only 9 per cent of the abused or neglected individuals tracked. Early detection and attention by a medical professional can help counter the increased risk of mortality that results from elder abuse and neglect.

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About the Author

W.D. Johnson is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and educational consultant. She specializes in writing development, test preparation and college admissions. Johnson graduated as a writing major from the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts in 2008.