Although elder abuse has occurred for centuries, it wasn't until
the late 1970s -- early 1980s that elder abuse victims received
national attention. In 1981 the Select Committee on Aging held
hearings in which victimized elders gave firsthand testimony of
their experiences. The report concluded that elder abuse is a
full scale national problem and exists with a frequency few dare
to imagine. It is estimated that 1.5 to 1.84 million Americans
are victims of elder abuse annually. Arizona Adult Protective
Services handles approximately 10,000 cases a year in Maricopa
County. To address this issue, the Mesa Police Department
offers training on elder abuse, community education programs,
and works closely with Adult Protective Services and the Office
of the Arizona Attorney General.
Elder Abuse is Rarely Reported
One of the obstacles in determining an accurate number of
elder abuse victims is the fact that elder abuse is rarely
reported. Estimates show that only 1 in 14 incidents of elder
abuse are reported to authorities. The reasons why this abuse is
rarely reported include:
- Fear of retaliation by the abuser.
- Fear of not being believed.
- Fear of being institutionalized, or separated from
family and familiar things.
- Fear of the criminal justice system.
- Fear of loneliness.
Protect the Abuser
- Adult children and caregivers are often the abusers, and
because of the guilt and shame in being abused by one's own
child or by a trusted caregiver, the abuse is not reported.
- An isolated older victim may not know how or where to
seek help. Elders often live alone, or with family members
and don't interact with others in the community.
- Many victims do not seek help because they either blame
themselves for the abuse, or they tolerate and accept the
Inability to Report
- Mental impairments: Alzheimer's disease or other forms
of dementia may cause memory loss and impair the ability to
- Physical impairments may affect the victim's ability to
get to the phone or leave the home to report abuse, or a
stroke may affect their ability to communicate.
Types of Elder Abuse & the Warning Signs
- Physical Abuse: the infliction of
physical pain or injury, and/or use of physical restraints
that result in physical pain or impairment.
Warning signs: bruises, welts, lacerations,
fractures, burns, hair missing from being pulled, abrasions
from physical confinement, over- or under- medicated,
unexpected deterioration of health; victim is agitated or
fearful, caregiver refuses to let elder have visitors.
- Sexual Abuse: non-consensual sexual
contact of any kind with an elderly person.
Warning signs: unexplained genital infections or sexually
transmitted diseases, torn or bloody underclothes,
difficulty walking or sitting; victim is withdrawn, fears
touching, shameful, anxious.
- Psychological/Emotional Abuse:
infliction of mental pain, anguish or distress through
verbal or nonverbal acts.
Warning signs: fearful, eating disorders,
self-medication with alcohol or prescription medications,
depression, agitation, withdrawn, anger, low self-esteem.
- Financial Abuse/Exploitation: illegal
or improper use of funds, property, or assets.
Warning signs: unexplained or sudden inability to
pay bills, unexplained or sudden withdrawal of money from
accounts, disparity between assets and living conditions,
unusual interest by family member in an elder's assets,
changes in the elder's will/other documents, improper use of
guardianship, conservatorship, or power of attorney.
- Neglect: failure or refusal to fulfill
any part of a person's obligations or duties to an elderly
Warning signs: bed sores, dehydration,
malnutrition, poor hygiene, unsanitary/unsafe living
conditions, improper use of medication; victim appears
detached, unresponsive, helpless.
A warning sign of every type of abuse
the elder reports being abused.
Characteristics of Victims
- Majority are 75+ years of age.
- Two-thirds are female.
- Have one or more physical or mental impairments.
- Often widowed or divorced and socially isolated.
- Usually live with the abuser.
Characteristics of Abusers
- 90% of abusers are known to the victim.
- More than two-thirds are relatives of the victim.
- May be socially isolated, possibly substance abusers or
persons with poor employment records.
- May be forced to provide care, and are unprepared for
the responsibility and related stress.
- May be financially or emotionally dependent on the
How Can You Help?
Study the warning signs of the types of abuse, and share this
information with friends, relatives and neighbors.
Report suspected abuse to the Mesa Police
Department, or call Arizona Adult Protective Services' Adult
Abuse Hotline at 1-877-SOS-ADULT (1-877-767-2385). The elderly
deserve honor and respect, not abuse.
Arizona State Statutes Pertaining to Elder Abuse
Arizona has been very active in legislating elder abuse.
Several statutes are now in place to protect the victims of
abuse, and to prosecute the abusers.
Arizona State Statutes
13-3623 Child or Vulnerable Adult Abuse
46-451 Definitions; program goals
46-452 Protective Services Worker; powers and duties
ARS 46-452.01 Office of State Long Term Care Ombudsman
46-454 Mandatory Reporting Statute; duty to report abuse,
neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults
46-455 Neglect (www.azleg.state.az.us/ars/46/0455.htm)
46-456 Financial Exploitation
Other Arizona Agencies Involved in Elder Abuse Investigation
Area Agency on Aging
24-hour Senior HELPLINE
602-264-HELP / 602-264-4357
- Maricopa Elder Abuse Prevention Alliance (MEAPA)
- Long Term Care Ombudsman
- Elder Emergency Housing Program for victims of abuse and
late-life domestic violence
Medicaid/AHCCCS Fraud Control Unit
Investigate fraud by providers in the AHCCCS & Long Term Care
Department of Health Services
Office of Long Term Care
Internet Links on Elder Abuse
If you have any questions or if you would like to arrange for
someone to speak to your group about elder abuse, please
Karen Stegenga, Crime Prevention Officer
Mesa Police Department