Prevalence and Incidence

Although knowledge about the extent of elder abuse is sorely needed to guide policy and planning activities, no national prevalence study has been conducted in the United States. Among localized studies, the best known used a methodology that had been validated in two national family violence surveys. Karl Pillemer and David Finkelhor (1988) surveyed 2,020 noninstitutionalized elders living in the metropolitan Boston area and found that 3.2 percent had experienced physical abuse, verbal aggression, and/or neglect in the period since they reached sixty-five years. Spouse abuse was more prevalent (58%) than abuse by adult children (24%), the proportion of victims was roughly equally divided between males and females, and economic status and age were not related to the risk of abuse. Using comparable methodologies, but typically including financial abuse among forms to be investigated, national prevalence studies in Canada, Great Britain, Finland, and the Netherlands found that between 4 and 6 percent of older people surveyed were elder abuse victims (Podnieks; Ogg and Bennett; Kivela et al.; Comijs et al.).

In 1998 the National Center on Elder Abuse completed the first national incidence study on elder abuse in the United States. Using a representative sample of twenty counties in fifteen states, two data sources were examined to identify the number of unduplicated new cases of elder abuse in a single year. The data sources were reports to Adult Protective Services and reports from sentinels, namely, specially trained community agency personnel having frequent contact with older people. The results for 1996 suggested a national incidence rate of 551,011, with self-neglect and neglect comprising over two-thirds of all elder abuse reported.

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