Public can act to stem elder abuse, report says
Posted January 09, 2016 in Selected Press
Despite breakthroughs such as increased state and federal funding for elder-abuse prevention, the mistreatment of seniors remains low on the list of public priorities, a new report says. And it's not likely to gain much traction unless Americans start seeing elder abuse as a problem that can - and must - be tackled through new policies and collective action, according to the FrameWorks Institute report released this week.
Despite breakthroughs such as increased state and federal funding for elder-abuse prevention, the mistreatment of seniors remains low on the list of public priorities, a new report says.
And it's not likely to gain much traction unless Americans start seeing elder abuse as a problem that can -- and must -- be tackled through new policies and collective action, according to the FrameWorks Institute report released this week.
"There's a widespread fatalistic notion in our country that 'nothing can really be done' to prevent elder abuse, but that couldn't be more wrong," said Terry Fulmer, president of the John A. Hartford Foundation of New York City, which helped fund the report.
Elder abuse has remained a largely invisible problem, Fulmer said, because of the country's " profoundly private, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps" values that encourage people to be strong and remain silent regarding their pain.
It's not that anyone disagrees that abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly are serious problems, but there's often a gap between how experts in the field and the public think about the issue and what can be done about it, the report and advocates say.
An estimated 1 in 10 elderly Americans -- defined as age 60 or older -- is abused or neglected every year, often at the hands of family members, caregivers or others entrusted to protect them, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.
That doesn't include people who have been exploited financially -- an aspect of elder abuse that, because of its fast growth, has gained a lot of public attention recently.
"Ohio has a growing elderly population, and nowhere is it growing faster than our rural communities," which have fewer financial and other resources to address the problem, said Wendy Patton, senior policy director at Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal research group.
Leaders in the field of aging have long worried that the issue of elder abuse has been stereotyped, poorly understood, little discussed and disconnected from meaningful public policy, the report says.
"It's a very hidden problem, really," said Cindy Farson, director of the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging.
In March, The Dispatch published a two-day series that found that elder abuse is an expensive, growing and sometimes-lethal problem that takes a tremendous toll on its victims and their families.
The series also chronicled the need for a stronger adult protective-services system statewide and examined efforts underway in Ohio to develop minimum standards and consistent training for adult protective services. State plans also call for a new hotline to take abuse reports, plus a collection system to analyze the data.
In July, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a joint call for the country to tackle the problem sooner rather than later.
So why isn't elder abuse a higher public priority?
Part of it is that too often, people think of older adults as deteriorating and dependent, the report found.
This promotes a view that seniors are objects to be cared for and protected rather than people with voices and minds of their own who are part of the solution, said Fulmer, who is known for her extensive elder-abuse research.
The public also often assumes that the causes lie in the characteristics of the perpetrator, the victim or their relationship -- ignoring the role of systemic and social factors, the report says.
As a result, people struggle to assign responsibility for addressing the problem. This undermines the rationale for addressing elder abuse through public measures.
Generally agreed-upon recommendations to tackle the problem of elder abuse include:
-*- Reforming and increasing funding to adult protective services, which responds to elder abuse. The good news: In 2014, Ohio lawmakers set aside $10 million in one-time money, and they are funneling about $5.3 million to the cause over the next two years. That's the state's largest recent allocation, but it's still less than the $20 million annually asked for by advocates. Efforts also call for adding more money to the Elder Justice Initiative, which will go from a
$4 million investment in 2015 to $8 million in 2016.
-*- Strengthening community support and human services for caregivers and older adults.
-*- Creating more multidisciplinary teams of professionals to ensure that services are coordinated. In cases of financial exploitation, for example, the team might include federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies, adult protective services and banks.
-*- Increasing education and training for professionals and the public on what elder abuse is, how it can be prevented and what should be done after it occurs.
-*- Encouraging more research to better understand which interventions and prevention programs are most effective.
Antonia Carroll, director of the Franklin County Office on Aging, especially agrees with the suggestion that more needs to be done to put the issue of self-neglect on the map.
These cases involve older adults who neglect to tend to their medical conditions or basic needs, such as eating, dressing or personal hygiene.
The number of self-neglect cases filed in recent years has increased dramatically, but experts think they're still woefully underreported. In Ohio, roughly half of the elder-abuse reports involve self-neglect.
"The statistics are already staggering, and who knows how big the problem really is?" Carroll said.
Original Article: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016...