Perpetrators of Elder Abuse

The National Research Council defines elder abuse and mistreatment as:

  • intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who stands in a trust relationship to the elder, or
  • failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elder's basic needs or to protect the elder from harm."

NIJ has funded two studies that identify characteristics of those caregivers who perpetrate elder mistreatment. 

In a court-based study of abused women in Rhode Island over the age of 50, researchers reviewed court records — cases in which the perpetrator has been prosecuted for a crime — and found that: [1]

  • Nearly half of the suspects had a prior criminal history on record in the state.
  • Over a quarter had a prior court case for domestic violence.
  • Two in ten had a prior record for a drug- or alcohol-related event.
  • Fourteen percent had a prior case for a crime against person (non-domestic).
  • Sixteen percent had been sentenced to prison for a prior charge.

In a telephone survey of nearly 6,000 elderly individuals, victims of elder physical mistreatment reported that: [2]

  • A majority (57 percent) of perpetrators of physical abuse were partners or spouses.
  • Half of perpetrators were using drugs or alcohol at the time of the mistreatment.
  • Three in ten perpetrators had a history of mental illness.
  • Over a third of perpetrators were unemployed.
  • Four in ten perpetrators were socially isolated.


[note 1] Klein, A., T. Tobin, A. Salomon, and J. Dubois. A Statewide Profile of Abuse of Older Women and the Criminal Justice Response (pdf, 94 pages), Final Grant Report to the National Institute of Justice, March 2008, NCJ 222459.

[note 2] Acierno R., M. Hernandez-Tejada, W. Muzzy, K. Steve. National Elder Mistreatment Study (pdf, 183 pages), NCJ 226456, March 2008, Grant Report.

Date Created: May 17, 2009