impaired) may not be able to recall or provide valid information about exposure to maltreatment; and the failure of studies to take into account the timing and duration of events and their progression over time.

For these reasons, a clear framework of known risk factors for elder mistreatment cannot be derived from previous research on elder abuse. Despite a large number of review articles over the past two decades, it must be acknowledged that any statements about relative risk among the elderly should be viewed with caution.

However, the small number of studies using acceptable research designs do reveal some associations that are of interest. In this chapter, findings from these studies are summarized. For the purposes of the discussion, an attempt has been made to focus on studies that meet two criteria. First, priority was given to studies that involve a comparison group of some kind. In such studies, elderly victims (or perpetrators) have been compared to nonabuse cases uncovered in a survey or to a comparison group of some kind. Because the literature is so sparse, however, in a few cases, studies are referred to that have an “implied” comparison group. Second, the study must have collected information directly from victims and perpetrators and not from agency records (for problems with using agency records in elder mistreatment research, see Chapter 2).


The theoretical model for understanding the risk factors for elder mistreatment presented in Chapter 3 includes both the microprocess of generation of elder mistreatment risk, involving the individual and the trusted other(s), as well as the environing sociocultural context in which victims and perpetrators are embedded (such as living environment and social and economic characteristics). This model indicates the wide array of variables that could be included in risk factor research.

To date, a small number of this wide range of potential risk factors has been addressed in research. These factors, for each of which there is at least one study, fall into the following categories of the framework depicted in Figure 3-2:

Social Embeddedness/Context (subject): social isolation.

Social Embeddedness/Context (trusted other): social isolation.

Individual Level Factors (subject): gender, race, dementia, physical health status, personality characteristics.

Individual Level Factors (trusted other): mental illness, hostility, alcohol abuse, experience of violence or aggression in childhood.

Relationship Type: Shared living arrangement, relationship to victim (spouse or child).

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