WASHINGTON –Senators on the Special Committee on Aging said Wednesday the government needs to better track the extent of elder abuse involving financial manipulation, which elderly advocates said is a vastly underreported problem.

“There are currently no national statistics on the number of guardians assigned to older adults, the number of older adults in guardianships or the number of abuse cases involving older adults with guardians,” said Kathryn Larin of the Government Accountability Office.

Elder abuse can be physical harm but the committee focused largely on financial manipulation by guardians, family members or legal conservators.

“We’re calling it elder abuse, but that’s a nice way of saying they have defrauded, stolen, criminally abused people who are among the most vulnerable,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said.

States have varied proceedings for handling cases of elder abuse, said Cate Boyko, manager of Minnesota’s conservator account auditing program. She said states should have better ways to exchange information on how to approach elder abuse cases.

Reports of elder abuse have increased significantly in the past few years as awareness about the issue has spread, experts in eldercare said.

Jaye Martin, executive director of the Maine-based advocacy group Legal Services for the Elderly, said in the past 12 months LSE served 260 victims of elder abuse — up 24 percent from the previous year.

Even with the uptick in reports, Martin estimated her organization was serving less than 1 percent of Maine’s victims. With the number of adults aged 65 and older in the United States expected to double by 2050, experts and committee members agreed that a standardized method for identifying and investigating elder abuse claims was necessary.

“The good news is people are starting to report these cases,” committee chairwoman Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said. “The bad news is it’s probably the tip of the iceberg.”