Public Release: 

Elder abuse research yields new evidence on incidence, risks, outcomes

The Gerontological Society of America

As World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is observed on June 15, new study data from the Chinese community in Chicago is shedding light on the impact of elder abuse in America.

The discoveries are reported in five articles appearing in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. Rush University Medical Center Medical Center Professor XinQi Dong, MD, MPH, led the team that conducted the research.

"What we're finding is that elder abuse is an extremely complex problem, with severe consequences regarding psychological well-being," Dong said. "Patterns of victimization may be influenced by the older adults' health, intergenerational relationships, and other social determinants like culture.

This is the first time that scholars have examined elder abuse -- including psychological, physical, sexual, financial exploitation, caregiver neglect -- and self-neglect in relationship to a number of factors, such as two-year incidence, adult children perpetrators and previous child abuse, levels of physical function, and thoughts of suicide.

The researchers utilized the PINE and PIETY studies, two population-based longitudinal studies surveying more than 3,000 Chinese older adults and their adult children in the Chicago area, to investigate elder abuse among the U.S. Chinese population. They found:

  • Nearly 1 in 10 Chinese older adults become new victims of elder abuse every two years.

  • Risk factors for elder abuse vary depending on the type of abuse.

  • Adult children who were abused as minors are nearly twice as likely to abuse their older parents compared to those who were not abused.

  • Victims of elder abuse and self-neglect are 2 to 3 times more likely to have suicidal ideation than non-victims.

  • Lower levels of physical function may be a protective factor against victimization

"Examining elder abuse in the U.S. Chinese community sheds light on the potential cultural nuances of elder abuse," Dong added. "Perpetrators of elder abuse tend to be family members, but adherence to collectivism or familism and lack of institutional support may deter Chinese Americans from asking for help."

Elder abuse or mistreatment is a serious public health issue impacting at least 1 in 10 older adults in the U.S. each year, leading to declines in the health and well-being on individual and family levels.

"While we want prevention and intervention efforts to be implemented as soon as possible," Dong said, "researchers need to make sure they have enough information to create effective, culturally-appropriate programs to truly improve the lives of older adults."

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The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences is a peer-reviewed publication of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA), the nation's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging. The principal mission of the Society -- and its 5,500+ members -- is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public. GSA's structure also includes a policy institute, the National Academy on an Aging Society, and an educational branch, the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

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