Nursing home abuse in the United States is an underexplored field of study. As one researcher put it, “a vast reservoir of undetected and unreported elder mistreatment in nursing homes” may exist beneath the public-facing surface of our elder care industry. By drawing data from a range of authoritative sources, including academic research papers, investigative reports, and government bodies, we’ve compiled some of the most damning figures available regarding the threat of elder abuse facing our rapidly aging population. 

The Administration on Aging recorded a 33% increase in the over-65 population in the US between 2006 and 2016, which took the total figure to 49.2 million. This is projected to almost double to 96 million by 2060. The latest estimates from the US Census Bureau, released in June 2020, remain consistent with those figures, as an ever-increasing number of baby boomers reach the 65 year milestone. By the end of this decade, the youngest boomers (born in 1964) will be over 65. No other age group in the country is growing as rapidly.

Key findings from the Administration on Aging’s 2017 report include:

  • Older women (27 million) outnumber older men (21.8 million) 
  • Just over 15%, of the population is over 65
  • In 2015, Social Security was the primary source of income for 84% of over-65s
  • In 2015, Social Security constituted 90% or more of the income received by 34% of beneficiaries
  • In January-June 2017, the percentage of over-85s needing help with personal care (22%) was more than six times the percentage for adults ages 65–74 (3%)

This rapid growth in our older population brings with it an increase in the number of residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, which in turn puts a greater number of vulnerable people at risk of elder abuse. Many of those facilities are run by for-profit nursing home chains. 

Here’s what we know about the demographic makeup of residents and ownership status of nursing homes in the US:

  • As of 2019, some 1.5 million over-65s lived in nursing homes
  • Two out of three nursing home residents are women
  • According to a 2016 report carried out by the Department of Health and Human Services, 43% of nursing home residents are 85 and older
  • Two thirds of nursing home residents rely on medicaid
  • There are approximately 1.7 million licensed beds
  • As of 2016, the CDC recorded 15,600 registered nursing homes
  • According to the CDC, 69.3% of nursing homes have a for-profit ownership status

Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes

Reliable elder abuse statistics are notoriously hard to come by. What we do know likely represents only a fraction of the true scale of the problem, and much of the available research dates from 20+ years ago. The elder abuse crisis has almost certainly worsened since then. We will continue to update this page as and when new information emerges. 

Here’s what the available research tells us about elder abuse in nursing homes:

  • A congressional report found that, between 1999 and 2001, 30% of nursing home facilities nationwide were cited for violations of federal standards that could, or did, cause harm, to their residents 
  • Close to 10% of those facilities had violations that either posed a risk of serious injury or death, or caused the deaths of elderly residents
  • Research from 2010 shows that more than 50% of nursing home staff admitted to mistreating residents within the prior year
  • In 2000, in a survey of 2,000 nursing home residents, 44% of them said they had been abused (this figure includes abuse suffered at the hands of another resident)

Types of Nursing Home Abuse

According to 2015 data from the National Center for Victims of Crime, complaints against nursing homes break down thus:

  • Physical abuse (29%)
  • Physical or sexual abuse by another resident (22%)
  • Psychological abuse (21%)
  • Gross neglect (14%)
  • Financial exploitation (7%)
  • Sexual abuse (7%)

See our dedicated page for more information on nursing home abuse.

Unreported Elder Abuse

One of the biggest challenges facing elder right advocates trying to tackle the scourge of abuse and mistreatment is the severe under-reporting thought to be associated with elder abuse. Many instances of abuse go unreported by the victims themselves, due to impairment, fear, and self-doubt inculcated by manipulative caregivers. 

More worrying is the high number of serious cases of abuse not reported to the police by nursing homes. A 2017 alert from the Office of the Inspector General claimed that more than 25% of cases of abuse – severe enough to warrant a visit to the emergency room – went unreported, despite a federal law requiring facilities to report such cases within two hours. The 134 cases of severe abuse uncovered by the Inspector General, most of which involved sexual assault, are likely to represent a small fraction of the unreported crimes being committed in American nursing homes. 

  • One study estimates that only 1 in 14 elder abuse incidents are formally reported
  • The New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study suggests a higher number, with only 1 in 25 cases reported
  • Data collected by Adult Protective Services indicates a recent rise in the number of reported incidences of nursing home abuse

To speak to a nursing home abuse attorney in Sacramento:

Call (916) 448-6400, submit a contact form, or chat with us using the button on the bottom right of your screen. Dudensing Law has handled numerous cases against perpetrators of abuse in nursing homes, and can help you fight the large corporations who own many of California’s elder care facilities.