As the population of elderly people in the United States increases, so does the incidence of what is known as elder abuse. Estimates put the number of cases in which elderly victims are abused as high as half a million annually. The number of reported incidents, however, is barely 15 percent of that.
As with all forms of abuse, elder abuse affects people from all socioeconomic backgrounds. The more frail the individual, the more likely he or she will be a victim of abuse. Abuse can be physical or emotional, subtle or blatant. Most frightening is that abuse is most likely to come at the hands of someone the victim trusts: a child, a spouse, a caregiver.
With elder abuse more pervasive, the issue has garnered increased attention, and a number of groups, along with federal, state, and local agencies, are taking steps to reverse the trend. Part of the challenge is to find ways to get people to report abuse when it happens. This means educating people to know and watch for warning signs, and it means encouraging victims to speak out without fear of recrimination.