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Study: Over 10 Percent Of Older Americans Suffer Abuse

Aug 20, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

A new University of Chicago study—the first such comprehensive review of elder mistreatment in the United States—has found that approximately 13 percent of elderly Americans are subject to abuse.  Worse, such elders are most commonly abused by a person who either verbally or financially abuses them.  "The population of the country is aging, and people now live with chronic diseases longer.  So it's important to understand, from a health perspective, how people are being treated as they age," said lead author Edward Laumann, the George Herbert Mead Distinguished Service Professor in Sociology at the University of Chicago.  While other studies have been conducted, they were based on small, non-representative samples of the population or on data gathered from the criminal justice system or welfare agencies. As such, those studies were not considered as comprehensive as this new study, which was conducted in response to a National Research Council report calling for scientific study of elder mistreatment.

Laumann and his research team found nine percent of adults reported verbal, 3.5 percent reported financial, and 0.2 percent reported physical mistreatment.  The study also found physical impairment plays a role in mistreatment.  "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.  The study revealed adults in their late 50s-60s are more likely to report verbal or financial mistreatment than older patients. "Perhaps the respondents are including fairly routine arguments, perhaps about money, with their spouse, sibling or child in their reports or perhaps older adults are more reticent to report negative behavior," Laumann said.  The findings found wide variations in mistreatment depending on age and ethnicity and were reported in "Elder Mistreatment in the U.S.: Prevalence Estimates from a
Nationally-Representative Study," published in the current issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

In addition to other findings, the study found that females were about twice as likely to report verbal mistreatment, but no higher level of financial mistreatment, than men; Latinos were about half as likely as nonLatinos to report verbal mistreatment and 78 percent less likely to report financial mistreatment; and blacks were 77 percent more likely to report financial mistreatment than whites.  Respondents were questioned about the past 12 months, as follows:  "Is there anyone who insults you or puts you down?" (verbal); "Is there anyone who has taken your money or belongings without your okay 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).  Twenty-six percent reported verbal mistreatment, 26 percent identified a spouse or romantic partner as responsible, 15 percent said their children mistreated them verbally, while the remainder said 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.


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