The National Center on Elder Abuse’s (NCEA) Administration on Aging publishes on its website a bevy of statistics on the elderly population, as well as the severity of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. While poring through numbers can be a boring task and can sometimes dilute the true visible reality of how elder abuse impacts elderly individuals as well as their loved ones (at least the loved ones not committing the acts), certain statistics can be so mind-boggling and sobering that there can only be a call to action in reaction.
Some significant statistics at the outset of any data review demonstrate the significantly growing elderly population in the United States. Much of the recent information is based on the U.S. Census, which is conducted every decade, with the most recent being 2010. According to the 2010 Census, the U.S. has had the highest number of Americans aged 65 and older in census history. There are approximately 40.3 million elderly Americans, which comprises 13% of the total population, according to the NCEA data. Projections show that by the year 2050, this age group will make up one fifth of the U.S. population, with those 85 and older being the fastest growing. Anyone knowledgeable of basic U.S. history and math can obviously trace this back to the Baby Boom generation, born soon after World War II. The 85 and older segment will expand from 5.8 million in 2010 to 19 million in 2050!
Elder abuse, whether in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, or anywhere else, has been a serious epidemic in the U.S. For inexplicable reasons, too many elderly people have been treated horribly, and have suffered physically, mentally, emotionally and financially as a result. According to the NCEA, 90% of abusers tend to be family members, which is wildly disturbing. It is also not a surprise to find that much of the abuse comes from family members who themselves are mentally or emotionally disturbed, or may abuse drugs and alcohol. Females are abused at the highest rate, and the rate of abuse also increases with a person’s age, according to studies. Approximately 7.6%-10% of elderly participants in a recent study suffered abuse in the past year, while only 1 in 10 adults experienced abuse that did not include financial exploitation (which implies that 9 out of 10 did experience financial exploitation).
One statistic equally negative and positive is the increase in reported elder abuse to Adult Protective Services agencies in states across the U.S. While this is upsetting to see the high rate of abuse that goes on, it is at least a positive step that it is being reported. Reforms and fixes can only be made if we actually know about the full extent of the abuse. While this is not to imply such reporting shows the full extent, it nevertheless demonstrates a greater depth and breadth of knowledge than we have previously had. Of course, plenty cases still go unreported, as the NCEA site also mentions how a study showed about 1 in 14 cases of abuse and exploitation actually is reported to the appropriate authorities. Another serious statistic is the rate of disability among the elderly. Disabilities make elderly individuals even more vulnerable, as they require some level of care from others in order to overcome those disabilities. When they put their trust in others, unfortunately that trust can be broken through abuse and neglect. About 14 million American aged 65 and over are disabled, and studies have shown that disabled individuals tend to experience a higher rate of abuse. This includes individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s, who typically lack the mental capacity to understand what is going on around them.
While this is just a general glossing over of statistics, it is a sobering reality that as the elderly population in the U.S. grows, the need for the identification and prevention of abuse grows with it.
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