University of Illinois Extension

Molly Hofer
Extension Educator, Family Life
Cook County Unit
10244 South Vincennes Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
P: 773-233-2900
F: 773-233-9183


Case 1

Is This Elder Abuse?

Alice, 75, a widow, lived in a small apartment with her son, Frank, 54. Frank had been in and out of drug and alcohol treatment centers for years, but was doing well for the last six months since he moved back in with his mother. Alice knew here son had nowhere else to go so she took him in under two conditions: he had to find a job and he could not drink.

Frank found a job and things seemed to be going well until he stopped coming home right after work. Alice knew he was stopping at the corner bar because she could smell the alcohol on his breath. The third time this happened, Alice confronted her son. Frank immediately became belligerent, verbally abusing her and forcing her to go to her room. The next night Alice confronted him again threatening to throw him out if he continued to drink. Frank became enraged and started running toward his mother with his fist raised over his head. Fearing for her life, Alice fled to the safety of her neighbor's house.

Case 2

Is This Elder Abuse?

Carol, 24, divorced, lived on the second floor of an apartment with her two young children. Living below her on the first floor was Beatrice, 86, a nice old lady who didn't leave here apartment very often because of her arthritic knees and poor eyesight. Carol and her children visited Beatrice frequently and often helped with her laundry in exchange for occasional babysitting. Beatrice loved their company.

Every Saturday, Carol offered to do the grocery shopping for Beatrice. Because she could not do it herself, Beatrice was happy to accept Carol's help. Carol thought it was okay to keep $20 of the change each week because she was taking the time and trouble to help Beatrice; although, she was never offered any money. Carol thought Beatrice would never realize the money was missing because of her poor eyesight.

A Reality

In both scenarios it is clear that elder abuse is a disturbing reality in today's society. The risk of being abused, neglected or exploited is real for many older people. Family members or other caregivers are most often the abusers. The problem crosses all geographic, socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic barriers.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), "Elder abuse in domestic settings is a widespread problem, possibly affecting hundreds of thousands of elderly people across the country. However, because it is still largely hidden under the shroud of family secrecy,this type of abuse is grossly underreported." In fact, many experts agree that the reported numbers represent only the "tip of the iceberg." It is estimated that only 1 out of 14 domestic elder abuse cases is reported to the authorities.

In Illinois, it is estimated that four to five percent of the older population (approximately 80,000 persons) is abused. Only 5,000 cases or so are reported each year. Currently, six out of ten reported cases are substantiated after investigation.

Types of elder abuse may include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; neglect, or financial exploitation. It is possible that more than one type of abuse may be suspected in any given case. Financial exploitation and emotional abuse are the types most commonly reported in Illinois.