on a relatively thin empirical base and draws heavily on anecdotal observations and relies (perhaps inappropriately) on research and analysis addressing other forms of elder abuse, child abuse, and spouse/partner abuse. Because financial abuse is frequently addressed in conjunction with other forms of elder abuse, a brief overview of elder abuse in general is provided before turning specifically to financial abuse of the elderly.


Elder abuse, at least to some degree, has probably always existed. Only in the past few decades, however, has it been recognized as a major societal problem. Attention to elder abuse followed the “discovery” of child abuse in the 1960s and spouse abuse in the 1970s. Today, elder abuse is widely characterized as both a pervasive problem and a growing concern (Dessin, 2000; Heisler, 2000; Moskowitz, 1998b).

The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study (NEAIS), which was described as the first national study of the incidence of elder abuse in the United States,2 estimated that nearly a half million persons aged 60 and over in domestic settings were abused or neglected during 1996 (National Center on Elder Abuse, 1998).3 Furthermore, this study determined that for every reported incident of elder abuse or neglect, approximately five incidents were unreported (National Center on Elder Abuse, 1998), supporting a wide consensus that elder abuse is greatly underreported (Choi and Mayer, 2000; Dessin, 2000; U.S. General Accounting Office, 1991; Kleinschmidt, 1997; Moskowitz, 1998b; National Center on Elder Abuse, 1996). The NEAIS confirmed a general view that state agencies established to receive such reports, such as Adult Protective Services (APS) agencies, receive reports of the most visible and obvious occurrences of elder abuse, but that there are many other incidents that are not reported. Nevertheless,


It should be noted that the methodology employed in the NEAIS study has been questioned (Comijs et al., 2000; Thomas, 2000). However, methodological limitations are associated with virtually all elder abuse research. The goal of this report is not to provide a methodological critique of elder abuse research in general or financial abuse in particular. In addition, regardless of any methodological limitations, the NEAIS study provides useful comparisons across categories of elder abuse. There is, however, a need for more rigorous research on both elder abuse in general and financial abuse of the elderly in particular.


An earlier and frequently cited report from the House Select Committee on Aging suggested that between 1 million and 2 million older Americans experience mistreatment each year (U.S. Congress, 1991). Recent review articles have estimated the number of elderly individuals victimized each year as 2 million (Moskowitz, 1998a), 1.5 million (Dessin, 2000), 1 million (Marshall et al., 2000), and 818,000 (Coker and Little, 1997). It has also been estimated that 5 percent of elder persons suffer some form of abuse each year and that one out of every four will experience abuse or neglect at some time (Dessin, 2000).

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement