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Elder Abuse: The Extent of Abuse by Guardians Is Unknown, but Some Measures Are Being Taken to Help Protect Older Adults

GAO-17-273T Published: Nov 30, 2016. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 2016.
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What GAO Found

The extent of elder abuse by guardians nationally is unknown due to limited data on key factors related to elder abuse by a guardian, such as the numbers of guardians serving older adults, older adults in guardianships, and cases of elder abuse by a guardian. Court officials from six selected states GAO spoke to noted various data limitations that prevent them from being able to provide reliable figures about elder abuse by guardians, including incomplete information about the ages of individuals with guardians. Officials from selected courts and representatives from organizations GAO spoke to described their observations about elder abuse by a guardian, including that one of the most common types appeared to be financial exploitation. Some efforts are under way to try to collect better data on elder abuse and guardianship at the federal, state, and local levels to support decision making and help prevent and address elder abuse by guardians. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to launch the National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System—a national reporting system based on data from state Adult Protective Services (APS) agency information systems by early 2017. According to HHS and its contractor, this system has the capability to collect information that could specifically help identify cases of elder abuse where a guardian was involved. GAO also identified state and local initiatives to capture key data points and complaint data as well as identify “red flags” such as unusually high guardian fees or excessive vehicle or dining expenses.

The federal government does not regulate or directly support guardianship, but federal agencies may provide indirect support to state guardianship programs by providing funding for efforts to share best practices and facilitate improved coordination, as well as by sharing information that state and local entities can use related to guardianship. State and local courts have primary responsibility over the guardianship process and, as such, have a role in protecting older adults with guardians from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Measures taken by selected states to help protect older adults with guardians vary but generally include screening, education, monitoring, and enforcement.

Measures Used to Help Protect Older Adults with Guardians from Abuse

Measures Used to Help Protect Older Adults with Guardians from Abuse

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's November 2016 report, entitled Elder Abuse: The Extent of Abuse by Guardians Is Unknown, but Some Measures Exist to Help Protect Older Adults GAO-17-33.

For more information, contact Kathryn A. Larin at (202) 512-6722 or

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AdultsBest practicesDecision makingElder abuseElder careElderly personsFederal agenciesGuardiansMonitoringAbuseProtective services