Elder abuse is one of the most widespread and under-reported problems in the country. However, despite the prevalence of elder mistreatment, the federal government does not gather data or require reporting for the crime against America’s senior citizens. With the population of Americans over the age of 65 expected to double by 2050, elder care advocates are urging the federal government to stiffen enforcement and begin tracking elder abuse cases across the country.
Elder abuse encompasses a wide range of illegal behaviors, from sexual abuse and financial exploitation to outright neglect by family members, caretakers, or nursing homes. Unfortunately, the federal government has not provided states with a precise definition of what behaviors constitute “elder abuse” and therefore, the exact definition varies depending on the state. When the federal government attempted to gather data on the subject for the first time this year, federal bureaucrats described the data received from states as incomplete, according to USA Today.
Unlike child abuse where states have been required to report data since the 1970s, states are not mandated to report cases of elder abuse to the federal government. Consequently, six states do not even track elder abuse. For the remaining 44 states, the data compiled is still woefully incomplete – largely because each state uses a different definition of elder abuse and different guidelines on government intervention. For example, some states include “self-neglect” – a common form of elder abuse where a senior citizen is no longer taking proper care of himself or herself – when reporting elder abuse, while other states do not. In New York, the Department of Health reported 40,000 elder abuse investigations to the federal government, which resulted in zero confirmed victims. According to USA Today, this is because New York does not judge whether elder abuse has occurred, only whether there is a sufficient risk that adult protective services should intervene.
While the lack of data on a federal level is frustrating, individual states across the country almost uniformly show an increase in elder abuse. In Pennsylvania, the number of reported cases increased from 13,000 to 18,000 between 2012 and 2017. During the same period, the number of elder abuse cases reported in Massachusetts rose from 7,100 to 9,800. With the data showing a clear and growing problem, the federal government should move quickly to assess the scale of elder abuse in the country and begin working to solve this tragic problem.