About Elder Abuse
by Utah Adult Protective Services

Editor's note: We asked Utah Adult Protective Services to write this article to give the public an idea of the magnitude of elder abuse not only in Utah but in the entire country. We feel Utah could be representative of the national population.

According to census bureau estimates, Utah had a population age 65 and older of approximately 206,600 in 2004. We estimate, based on national statistics, that Utah's population of mentally retarded and developmentally disabled people under the age of 65 Is approximately 24,000 people. This gives Utah an estimated population subject to abuse reporting of 230,600 people. Utah protective services in this article estimates there may have been 24,000 reported and unreported cases of disabled and elderly abuse in 2004. Assuming some cases were for the same individual this still means that about one out of ten in the targeted reporting population in Utah is experiencing elder abuse from family or others. 10% of the population in Utah, subject to elder abuse reporting, could be at risk.

If Utah's statistics are representative of the nation as a whole, then 10% of the estimated 40,532,000 elderly, mentally retarded and developmentally disabled people in the United States could be experiencing abuse. This is a little over 4.5 million people.

Editor's note: We also ran across an extremely interesting survey done by California adult protective services entitled "A Day in The Life of Adult Protective Services". California has the most people over age 65 of any state-- almost 2 million people. This is followed by Florida at about 1.5 million, New York at about 1.3 million and Texas at about 1.2 million. No other state except Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois comes even close to half of the elderly in Texas. We can probably expect California has the largest population of younger disabled people subject to elder abuse reporting as well. As a result the study in California can probably give us a good perspective of elder abuse nationwide. The study also provides descriptions of each case and helps in the understanding of what elder abuse is all about. We recommend you look at it. Here is the URL:


The elderly population is growing dramatically. Nationwide, individuals 85 years and older are the fastest growing segment in the population. Statistics suggest that by the year 2050 there will be 3.3 people over 60 for every child under four years of age in the United States. The "old" will actually outnumber the young. 47% of individuals 85 years and older suffer from dementia; yet, 95% of the elderly population live in their own homes. In addition, 70% of the wealth in the United States is held by those 50 years of age and older. These statistics, combined, provide good insight as to why elder individuals are prime targets for crime, specifically, abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Unfortunately, only one in ten cases of abuse of elder or disabled adults are ever reported.

In 2004, Utah Adult Protective Services workers investigated approximately 2,400 allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable adults. In Utah, a vulnerable adult is defined as an elder adult (65 years of age or older) or an adult (18 years of age or older) who has a mental or physical impairment, which substantially affects that person’s ability to protect or provide for themselves. The majority of the victims were females between the ages of 60-89 and 60% of the perpetrators were family members/relatives, while 24% were non-related paid caregivers.

The protective needs identified were as follows:

  • self-neglect 31%
  • physical abuse 16%
  • exploitation 19%
  • caretaker neglect 12%
  • emotional abuse 19%
  • sexual abuse 3%

In conducting the investigations it was not uncommon to find that adults who were self-neglecting were also being exploited or abused. As stated previously, these statistics are based on approximately 2,400 cases, thus, if only one in ten cases are ever reported, it is possible that there were actually 24,000 or more cases in Utah last year.

There are a multitude of reasons why incidents of abuse, neglect, or exploitation are not reported to Adult Protective Services or other authorities. One of the most common reasons is the victim's fear of retaliation. Being that many of the perpetrators are family members the victim fears that reporting the crime(s) will result in a "loss" of their loved one, as the perpetrator may face incarceration or may discontinue relations with the victim once accused, charged, or convicted. This concept is not easy for the victims to fathom, as they assume they will then be alone and expected to care for themselves or, their greatest fear and greatest misconception, they will be forced to live in a nursing home.

Fortunately, many states have implemented mandatory reporting laws to assist in the prevention of abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable adults. Utah is one of the many states to have a mandatory reporting law (U.C.A. § 76-5-111). Utah law states that any person who has reason to believe that a vulnerable adult has been the subject of abuse, neglect, or exploitation shall immediately notify Adult Protective Services or the nearest law enforcement agency. Anyone who makes the report in good faith is immune from civil liability in connection with the report; however, any person who willfully fails to report is guilty of a class B misdemeanor.

It is important to note that the anonymity of the person or persons making the initial report and any other persons involved in the subsequent investigation shall be preserved and may only be released in accordance with the rules of the division (U.C.A. § 62A-3-311). In addition, all investigation information is confidential.

The following is a list of indicators of abuse, neglect or exploitation. It is important to note that the following lists are merely indicators and may not always be violations.

Signs of Abuse:

  • Unexplained bruises, welts, fractures, abrasions or lacerations
  • Multiple bruises in various stages of healing
  • Multiple/repeat injuries
  • Low self-esteem or loss of self determination
  • Withdrawn, passive
  • Fearful
  • Depressed, hopeless
  • Soiled linen or clothing
  • Social Isolation

Signs of Neglect/Self-Neglect:

  • Dehydration
  • Malnourishment
  • Inappropriate or soiled clothing
  • Odorous
  • Over/under medicated
  • Deserted, abandoned or unattended
  • Lack of medical necessities or assistive devices
  • Unclean environment
  • Social Isolation

Signs of Exploitation:

  • Missing/"disappearing" property
  • Inadequate living environment
  • Frequent/recent property title changes or will changes
  • Excessive home repair bills
  • Forced to sign over control of finances
  • No/limited money for food, clothes and other amenities

Prevention can only occur if there is awareness, the statutes are adhered to, and any suspicions of abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable adults are immediately reported to Adult Protective Services and/or law enforcement.