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Insights on Adverse Effects of Elder Abuse

Strong social support is key in reversing the negative physical and mental effects of elder mistreatment, according to a recent NIJ-funded study.
Date Published
July 13, 2020

Victims of elder abuse who receive a high level of social support experience less depression and report less generalized anxiety and poor health. This finding comes from an NIJ-funded analysis of the data from the second wave of interviews (Wave II) of the National Elder Mistreatment Study. According to Ronald Acierno, “…high social support at Wave II appeared to inoculate older adults against negative effects of mistreatment eight years earlier at Wave I for most outcomes.”[1]

In Wave I of the National Elder Mistreatment Study, researchers interviewed 5,777 adults age 60 or older in 2008. For Wave II, conducted eight years after Wave I, researchers collected data from 774 Wave I participants. Of those participants, 183 had reported physical (18), psychological (163), or sexual (3) abuse or neglect (2) since turning 60 years old in Wave I. In comparison, the remaining 591 participants had not reported abuse in Wave I. For both waves, data were collected by Abt SRBI using computer assisted telephone survey methods.

In Wave II, Acierno, a professor and associate dean for research in the College of Nursing at the Medical University of South Carolina, followed up with a subset of the participants from Wave I to measure the effects of elder abuse. He examined not only physical and mental health consequences, but also criminal justice system participation. Acierno sought to identify additional predictors of these effects as well.

Impact of Abuse and Neglect

Results from Wave II related to abuse and neglect included—

  • Victims of psychological, physical, or sexual abuse identified in Wave I were almost five times more likely than nonvictims at Wave I to report being victimized again at Wave II.
  • Elder abuse victims at Wave I reported considerably higher rates of first year depression, general anxiety disorder, and poor self-reported health compared to nonvictims. Low reported social support at Wave II was a uniquely predictive factor for all three conditions.
  • Wave II depression was also associated with elder mistreatment, younger age, poor health, lower income, and needing assistance with daily living tasks at Wave I.
  • General anxiety disorder at Wave II was linked to all of the previously mentioned variables except lower income.
  • Wave II post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was connected to the Wave I variables of elder mistreatment, lower income, poor health, prior trauma, and needing assistance with daily living tasks.
  • Poor self-reported health in Wave II was associated with lower income, unemployment, poor health, prior trauma, and needing assistance with daily living tasks in Wave I.

Financial Mistreatment

When looking at the impacts of financial mistreatment reported in Wave I (n = 600), researchers found that in Wave II—

  • Financial mistreatment was linked to a considerably higher probability of depression, PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, and poor self-rated health.
  • Financial mistreatment in which family members were the perpetrators was associated with a higher risk of depression.
  • Forty percent reported that the perpetrator was either a family member, friend, or acquaintance as opposed to a stranger or strangers.
  • Financial abuse not only can create economic issues, but also can be a strain on the victim’s emotional and physical health.

Reporting Elder Abuse to Law Enforcement

The vast majority of participants who experienced abuse did not report the crime to authorities.

For emotional abuse, the percentage of those who did not report to law enforcement was similar if the perpetrator was a family member or friend (89.9%) or if the perpetrator was a stranger (83.3%).

However, for financial abuse, 87.5% of those who experienced financial mistreatment at the hands of family, friends, or acquaintances did not report the crime to authorities, while only 33% failed to report financial abuse by strangers.

The top reasons for not reporting financial abuse by strangers were not knowing how to report it (40%) and the fear of looking foolish (30%). The main motives for failing to report financial abuse by family, friends, or acquaintances were not wanting to get the perpetrator in trouble (52.4%) and not wanting publicity (38.1%).

The report also said that although nonreporting rates of financial abuse by strangers were lower than those of financial abuse by family, friends, and acquaintances, the number was still “unacceptably high” at 33%.

The main reasons for not reporting emotional mistreatment were not wanting to get the perpetrator in trouble (39.3% for family, friends, or acquaintances and 6.7% for strangers) and not wanting publicity (43% for family, friends, or acquaintances and 13.3% for strangers).

Researchers note that nonreporting rates of emotional abuse were high no matter who the perpetrator was compared to other types of elder mistreatment. “This implies that education is needed across agencies and the general population regarding emotional abuse, its negative effects, and methods of reporting to police and other authorities,” the research report said.

About This Article

The research described in this article was funded by NIJ grant 2014-MU-CX-0003, awarded to the Medical University of South Carolina. This article is based on the grantee report, National Elder Mistreatment Survey: 5 Year Follow-up of Victims and Matched Non-Victims, by Ronald Acierno, principal investigator, College of Nursing at the Medical University of South Carolina.

[note 1] Ronald Acierno, “National Elder Mistreatment Survey: 5 Year Follow-up of Victims and Matched Non-Victims,” Final report to the National Institute of Justice, grant number 2014-MU-CX-0003, August 2018, NCJ 252029.

National Institute of Justice, "Insights on Adverse Effects of Elder Abuse ," July 13, 2020, nij.ojp.gov:
https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/insights-adverse-effects-elder-abuse
Date Created: July 13, 2020