The rate of nonfatal assaults on elderly Americans is on the rise, new data shows. According to a new government report, the rate of assaults on American men over the age of 60 has increased by 75.4% between 2002 and 2016. For women of the same age, the assault rate has increased by 35.4% between 2007 and 2016.
“These findings highlight the need to strengthen violence prevention among older adults,” said researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Unfortunately, few strategies have been rigorously evaluated.”
Researchers used data from two government databases including the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System All Injury Program and the National Vital Statistics System. They analyzed the number of older victims of violence between 2002 and 2016.
In those 14 years, up to 643,191 nonfatal assaults and 19,059 homicides took place among adults aged 60 or older. Up to 87% of assaults involved being struck or hit.
Elderly men experienced higher rates of nonfatal assaults overall with an average 107.8 per 100,000 men assaulted compared to 50.4 per 100,000 women. They also experienced higher rates of homicide (3.16 compared to 1.53).
Researchers say these high rates of assault and homicide may suggest that elderly men are particularly vulnerable to violence. The highest rates of nonfatal assaults and homicides were experienced by men between the ages of 60 and 69. The lowest rates of nonfatal assaults were experienced by women between the ages of 70 and 79.
Although the number of assaults has increased, the overall estimated homicide rate has declined 12.8% between 2002 and 2014.
“[This report] sheds a light on the important issue of safety of older adults in the US,” said Dr. XinQi Dong, a professor and the director of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research at Rutgers University.
Dong, who wasn’t involved in the study, says that violence against the elderly is a global trend but that it’s still difficult to draw conclusions based on data. For instance, it can be challenging to identify a nonfatal assault from ER records.
Physicians may find it difficult to understand whether an elderly person experienced an assault when they come to the ER, Dong says. Unless more in-depth questions are asked through surveys, it’s hard to capture the truth. About 225,000 people die every year from medical malpractice.
There’s also very little research conducted on the perpetrators of these assaults and homicides, Dong says. Family members could be the cause of physical and psychological abuse.
“Really, I don’t think we can just take this report without highlighting the broader context of safety for older adults at home,” Dong said. “It’s not just about assaults. It’s about psychological abuse, it’s about neglect, it’s about exploitation. They’re very much interconnected.”
Dong adds that the cycle of violence within families is also interconnected and that violence in families is cross-generational. People have often been victimized throughout their lifetime, he says, and the age of 60 isn’t anything magical.
However, the problem of elder abuse in the U.S. is staggering. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that one in 10 older Americans is a victim of elder abuse.
Elderly Americans may be more likely to be abused or assaulted because of their vulnerability. Between 52% and 70% of people turning 65 will need long-term care services in some way because of health conditions, frailty, and difficulty moving. Elderly Americans are also more likely to suffer from financial abuse.
“There’s not enough attention paid to the victimization of older adults,” said Dong. “It’s an understudied, underfunded, underappreciated topic that affects the aging population, and society really needs to pay attention.”