Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Study Gauges Elder Mistreatment

On August 19, 2008, the University of Chicago released a study about elder abuse, as described in its Press Release entitled "More than 10 percent of older Americans suffer mistreatment, University of Chicago study shows."

About 13 percent of elderly Americans are mistreated, most commonly by someone who verbally mistreats or financially takes advantage of them, according to a University of Chicago study that is the first comprehensive look at elder mistreatment in the country. * * *

Other studies have been based on small, non-representative samples of the population or on data gathered from the criminal justice system or welfare agencies such as adult protection services. They are not as comprehensive as the new study, which was made in response to a report from the National Research Council calling for scientific study of elder mistreatment. * * *
The findings of this new study were summarized in the Press Release with reference to its lead author, Professor Edward Laumann, of the University's Sociology Department:
Laumann and his research team found that
  • 9 percent of adults reported verbal mistreatment,
  • 3.5 percent reported financial mistreatment and
  • 0.2 percent reported physical mistreatment.
Physical impairment apparently plays a role in mistreatment, the study found.

"Older people with any physical vulnerability are about 13 percent more likely than those without one to report verbal mistreatment but are not more likely to report financial mistreatment," said co-author Linda Waite, the Lucy Flower Professor in Sociology at the University. * * * [Formatting added.]
As to the reporting of alleged elder abuse, the study showed that "adults in their late 50s and 60s are more likely to report verbal or financial mistreatment than those who are older."

Regarding mistreatment, respondents were asked about the past 12 months and answer three questions:
  • "Is there anyone who insults you or puts you down?" (verbal);
  • "Is there anyone who has taken your money or belongings without your OK or prevented you from getting them, even when you ask?" (financial); and
  • "Is there anyone who hits, kicks, slaps or throws things at you?" (physical).

Of the people reporting verbal mistreatment,

  • 26 percent identified their spouse or romantic partner as being responsible,
  • 15 percent said their children mistreated them verbally, while
  • the remainder said that a friend, neighbor, co-worker or boss was responsible.

Among people who reported financial mistreatment, 57 percent reported someone other than a spouse, parent or child, usually another relative, was taking advantage of them. * * * [Formatting added.]

Professor Linda Waite noted some "good news" revealed by the study:
Few older adults reported mistreatment by family members, with older adults quite insulated from physical mistreatment.

However, the authors pointed to the need for sensitivity on the part of physicians and other medical personnel to the possibility, although infrequent, of physical mistreatment of their patients. * * *
The study's findings were reported in "Elder Mistreatment in the U.S.: Prevalence Estimates from a Nationally-Representative Study" (PDF, 7 pages), published in the current issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences (2008, Vol. 63B, No. 4, S248–S254).

Sometimes elder abuse rises to the level of alleged criminal behavior. A trial is now underway in York County Court regarding alleged elder abuse in the form of gross neglect towards a care-dependent elder, who died. When a jury verdict would be reported in that case, I'll note it here.