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Elder Financial Abuse Committed More Often by Family Than Strangers

A new study finds that the elderly are more likely to be financially abused by relatives than by strangers, despite the large number of Internet, mail and telephone scams directed at older adults.

“We expected to find that financial abuse was the most common abuse reported,” said Gali Weissberger, Ph.D., lead author of the study, and postdoctoral scholar in the Han Research Lab at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC).

“But despite the high rates of financial exploitation perpetrated by scammers targeting older adults, we found that family members were the most commonly alleged perpetrators of financial abuse. In fact, across all abuse types, with the exception of sexual abuse and self-neglect, abuse by a family member was the most commonly reported.”

For the study, Keck School researchers evaluated data from the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) resource line, a source where people can report or inquire about elder abuse.

The researchers coded nearly 2,000 calls, emails or messages recorded on the NCEA hotline between August 2014 and June 2017, reviewing for any mention of abuse. They categorized type of abuse alleged, whether multiple types of abuse occurred and who perpetrated the alleged abuse.

Of the nearly 2,000 reports, more than 42% (818 reports) alleged abuse. Financial abuse was the most commonly reported at nearly 55% (449 reports).

Family members were the most frequently identified perpetrators of alleged abuse at nearly 48% of calls in which a relationship could be determined.

The most common abuse perpetrated by family was financial abuse (61.8%), followed by emotional abuse (35%), neglect (20.1%), physical abuse (12%) and sexual abuse (0.3%). Of the calls that alleged abuse by a family member, more than 32% reported more than one abuse type.

“This is the first study to characterize elder abuse from calls made to the NCEA resource line, which serves as a public access point for people seeking information and resources about elder abuse,” said Duke Han, Ph.D., associate professor of family medicine at the Keck School and corresponding author of the study.

“Our findings highlight the importance of resource lines for those seeking information on elder abuse, as many calls were made to understand whether certain situations reflected abuse.”

Elder abuse affects an estimated one in 10 older adults annually, but is often underreported. Aside from its physical, psychological and social impact on victims, their families and society, elder abuse attributes to more than $5.3 billion in U.S. annual health care costs.

The researchers not that the study was limited by selection bias, as the data was from individuals proactively calling the NCEA line.

“The results highlight the importance of developing effective strategies to prevent future abuse,” said Weissberger. “Our next step is to conduct more studies targeting high-risk individuals and to better understand additional risk factors.”

Source: Keck School of Medicine of USC


Elder Financial Abuse Committed More Often by Family Than Strangers

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2019). Elder Financial Abuse Committed More Often by Family Than Strangers. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 18 Aug 2019 (Originally: 18 Aug 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 18 Aug 2019
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