In This Article Elder Mistreatment

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Edited Books
  • Journals
  • Prevalence and Definitions
  • Forms of Violence
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Intimate Partner Violence
  • Elder Mistreatment and Institutional Settings
  • Consequences
  • Diverse Populations
  • Global Contexts
  • Screening and Assessment Instruments
  • Perpetrators
  • Legislation on Elder Abuse
  • Interventions

Social Work Elder Mistreatment
Tazuko Shibusawa
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0107


Elder mistreatment, which was first recognized as a social problem in the 1970s, continues to grow as a public health concern. Elder mistreatment includes acts that are harmful by caregivers and others who are in a trusting relationship with elders. Elder mistreatment has devastating consequences such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and mortality. It is estimated that there are one to two million elders in the United States who are mistreated. However, it has been difficult to establish accurate prevalence rates because elder mistreatment occurs in many different settings. Risk factors for mistreatment include (1) dementia, (2) residing with the perpetrator, and (3) social isolation. Although caregiver burden was initially considered to be a risk factor for mistreatment, research indicates that individuals with mental illness and substance abuse problems are more likely to mistreat elders than distressed and overburdened caregivers. Despite increased recognition of the problem and legislation to protect elders through Adult Protective Services (APS), mistreatment continues to be underreported. In the USA, the population of adults aged sixty-five and older is projected to continue to increase, and in 2030, one in five people will be age sixty-five and older. The number of elders eighty years and older is also expected to more than double from 9.3 million in 2000 to 19.5 million. Aging is associated with a decrease in cognitive function, which is a risk factor for mistreatment, and social workers will need to be prepared to respond to more elders who are victims of mistreatment. With the dramatic growth in the number of ethnic elders, social workers will also need to develop ways to work with victims as well as perpetrators of elder mistreatment in culturally appropriate ways.

Introductory Works

The number of introductory works on elder mistreatment has increased since the 1990s. Most books include overviews with information on prevalence, definitions, forms of mistreatment, explanatory theories, risk factors, and prevention and intervention strategies. A number of books are grounded in specific perspectives. Aiken and Griffin 1996 presents elder mistreatment from a feminist perspective, and Payne 2011 is based on criminal justice framework. Written by practitioners, Nerenberg 2008 and Quinn and Tomita 1997 offer useful practice models for professionals who work with older adults and their families. Introductory books on family violence such as Barnett, et al. 2011 and Malley-Morrison and Hines 2004 include excellent chapters on elder abuse.

  • Aiken, Lynda, and Gabrielle Griffin. 1996. Gender issues in elder abuse. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Examines elder mistreatment from a feminist perspective and focuses on the marginalization of older women, feminization of old age, and elder abuse in institutional settings where older women are cared for by female care workers.

  • Barnett, Ola W., Cindy L. Miller-Perrin, and Robin D. Perrin. 2011. Family violence across the life span. 3d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    The chapter on elder abuse in this book provides comprehensive information on elder mistreatment including prevalence, definition, consequences, perpetrator characteristics along with policy, practice, and prevention issues. Also includes up to date research data and case presentations.

  • Malley-Morrison, Kathleen, and Denise A. Hines. 2004. Family violence in a cultural perspective: Defining, understanding, and combating abuse. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Focuses on family violence including elder mistreatment among four major US ethnic populations: Native American Indian, African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian American. Addresses cultural contexts as well broader historical and environmental forces contributing to violence within different communities including racism and oppression.

  • Nerenberg, Lisa. 2008. Elder abuse prevention: Emerging trends and promising strategies. New York: Springer.

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    Authored by a social worker, this book provides a comprehensive background on elder abuse including definitions, risk factors, models for prevention and interventions and treatment and recommendations for agencies, the justice system, and communities.

  • Payne, Brian K. 2011. Crime and elder abuse: An integrated perspective. 3d ed. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.

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    Using a criminal justice framework, this book focuses on the prevention and treatment of elder mistreatment through an interdisciplinary approach, including social workers, health-care professionals, accountants, and law enforcement professionals.

  • Quinn, Mary Joy, and Susan K. Tomita. 1997. Elder abuse and neglect: Causes, diagnosis, and intervention strategies. 2d ed. New York: Springer.

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    This is an excellent resource book for practitioners who work with older adults. The authors present their Elder Abuse Diagnosis and Intervention (EADI) Model, which consists of diagnostic and intervention phases. The book also includes information that helps prepare practitioners to appear in court.

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