were more likely to be abusers (Pillemer and Finkelhor, 1988). However, there are insufficient data on this risk factor to make a determination.

Personality Characteristics of Victims

Comijs et al. (1998) found that certain personality traits of elderly persons increased their risk of being an abuse victim. In a community survey conducted in the Netherlands, they examined whether hostility and coping style were related to being a victim of chronic verbal aggression, physical aggression, and financial mistreatment. Victims of chronic verbal aggression scored lower on a locus of control scale than did the nonabused members of the sample and higher on one indicator of hostility. Victims of all three abuse types showed higher levels of aggression as measured by the hostility scales and were generally more likely to use passive and avoidant ways of coping, rather than active problem-solving strategies. Because of the cross-sectional nature of this study, it is impossible to determine whether these characteristics are indeed risk factors, or whether they are consequences of the abuse. However, the findings are sufficiently suggestive to merit further exploration of personality factors in longitudinal studies.


Lachs and colleagues (1994, 1997a) found that being black was a risk factor for reported elder mistreatment. However, they noted that this may be an artifact of the definition of elder mistreatment, which was “being reported to an [adult protective services] agency.” No other study has found significant differences in elder abuse risk based on race.


Physical Impairment of the Older Person

The role of victim health and functional status as a risk factor for elder abuse is a complex one. For the purposes of this report, some degree of physical vulnerability is considered to be a necessary component of the definition of elder mistreatment. That is, mistreatment necessarily implies a weaker individual who is mistreated by a stronger one. Greater impairment diminishes the individual’s ability to defend himself or herself or to escape the situation. It therefore is reasonable to consider physical health problems as a predisposing factor for elder mistreatment, which increases the likelihood of abuse in the presence of other risk factors.

However, research has generally failed to find support for the view that frailty of elderly persons is in itself a risk factor for elder mistreatment.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement