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Elder Abuse: Consequences

Prevalence of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse, including neglect and exploitation, is experienced by an estimated one out of every ten people ages 60 and older who lives at home.1

For every one case of elder abuse that is detected or reported, it is estimated that approximately 23 cases remain hidden. 2

Consequences of Elder Abuse

The possible physical and psychosocial consequences of elder abuse are numerous and varied. Few studies have extensively examined the long-term consequences of elder abuse and distinguished them from those linked to normal aging.3-5

Physical Effects

The most immediate probable physical effects include the following: 6-9 

  • Welts, wounds, and injuries (e.g., bruises, lacerations, dental problems, head injuries, broken bones, pressure sores)
  • Persistent physical pain and soreness
  • Nutrition and hydration issues
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased susceptibility to new illnesses (including sexually transmitted diseases)
  • Exacerbation of preexisting health conditions
  • Increased risks for premature death

Psychological Effects

Established psychological effects of elder abuse include high levels of distress and depression.10, 11

Other potential psychological consequences that need further scientific study are

  • Increased risks for developing fear and anxiety reactions
  • Learned helplessness
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder


  1. Acierno R, Hernandez MA, Amstadter AB, Resnick HS, Steve K, Muzzy W, Kilpatrick DJ. Prevalence and correlates of emotional, physical, sexual, and financial abuse and potential neglect in the United States: The National Elder Mistreatment Study. Am J Public Health. 2010; 100(2): 292-297.
  2. Lifespan of Greater Rochester, Inc., Weill Cornell Medical Center of Cornell University, New York City Department for the Aging. Under the Radar: New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study. Self-reported prevalence and documented case surveys [Final Report] 2011 [cited 2014 Mar 24]; Available from:[PDF 2.3MB].
  3. National Research Council. Elder mistreatment: abuse, neglect, and exploitation in an aging America. In: Bonnie RJ, Wallace RB, editors. Panel to review risk and prevalence of elder abuse and neglect. Washington DC: The National Academies Press; 2003.
  4. Wolf RS. Elder abuse and neglect: an update. Rev Clin Gerontol. 1997; 7:177–182.
  5. Wolf R, Daichman L, Bennett G. 2002. Abuse of the elderly. In: Krug E, Dahlberg L, Mercy J, Zwi A, Lozano R, editors. World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva: World Health Organization. 123–146.
  6. Anetzberger G. The clinical management of elder abuse. New York: Hawthorne Press; 2004.
  7. American Medical Association white paper on elderly health: report of the Council on Scientific Affairs. Arch Intern Med. 1990; 150:2459–2472.
  8. Lachs MS, Williams CS, O’Brien S, Pillemer KA, Charlson ME. The mortality of elder mistreatment. JAMA. 1998; 280(5):428-432. doi:10.1001/jama.280.5.428.
  9. Lindbloom EJ, Brandt J, Hough L, Meadows SE. Elder mistreatment in the nursing home: a systematic review. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2007; 8(9):610–616.
  10. Comijs HC, Penninx BWJH, Knipscheer KPM, van Tilburg W. Psychological distress in victims of elder mistreatment: the effects of social support and coping. J Gerontol. 1999; 54B, S240–S244.
  11. Pillemer KA, Prescott D. Psychological effects of elder abuse: a research note. J Elder Abuse Negl. 1989; 1: 65-73.
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