The 2010 United States Census revealed that about 40.3 million Americans—which accounts for about 13 percent of the population—is over 65 years of age. The group is expected to continue to grow and will likely comprise about 20 percent of the population by 2050, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)/Administration on Aging.
Nursing home abuse is one of the most devastating horrors taking place in the elder community and impacting our older, vulnerable loved ones. The NCEA describes the mistreatment of the elderly, which includes abuse and neglect of the elderly, to be those intentional actions that cause serious risk of harm—whether intentional or not—to one of the vulnerable members of this demographic by a caregiver or by person who is in a position of trust. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes elder abuse as “a violation of human rights and a significant cause of illness, injury, loss of productivity, isolation, and despair.”
Demands on the health care industry are also expected to increase with this growing population. With seniors representing the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, this effect is expected to continue for decades, according to the NCEA.
While the NCEA was unable to confirm how many people have experienced, or are experiencing, elder abuse, the incident of that abuse tends to increase with age. Also, women appear to be abused more often than men and people who are diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are more vulnerable to elder abuse. The signs of abuse may be difficult to detect and the elderly may be reluctant or unable to report abuse.
The NCEA also found that 7.6-10 percent of study participants indicated that they had experienced abuse in the prior year. Also, based on Adult Protective Services (APS) data, there is an increasing trend in the incidence of elder abuse. Worse, the number of abuse, neglect, and exploitation cases that go undetected and untreated is described as “overwhelming” by the NCEA. In one study, for every case of elder abuse, 14 cases are not brought to the attention of authorities and, according to the New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, for every known abuse case in programs and agencies, another 24 cases are unknown.
Another study, conducted by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) and released in 2008 revealed that abuse issues associated with licensed facilities are underestimated at the state level. Most—about 70 percent—of the state surveys were missing at least one deficiency; 15 percent missed a true harm and immediate jeopardy of a nursing home resident.
In another study released in 2000 and involving 2,000 nursing home residents, 44 percent indicated that they had been abused, while a massive 95 percent indicated that they had been neglected or had witnessed resident neglect, according to NCEA. When an elder person experiences abuse, even modest abuse, that individual also experiences a 300 percent increased risk of death, as well as increased psychological distress and increased health problems.
Direct medical costs tied to violent injuries to the elderly are believed to add more than $5.3 billion to the nation’s yearly health costs, the NCEA also found.