May 30, 2017 Elder Abuse Prevention

Using Medical-Legal Models to Address Elder Abuse

Joy Solomon, Esq. and Malya Levin, Esq.

Community-based elder abuse is a public health crisis of vast proportions. The US Department of Justice's Elder Justice Road Map indicates that one out of every 10 people over age 60 who lives at home is the victim of abuse, neglect or exploitation. The actual number of elder abuse victims may be significantly higher, given that for every case of elder abuse reported to law enforcement or social services agencies, 23 more go unreported. Financial abuse is particularly rampant. According to a nationwide 2011 study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, $2.9 billion is taken from victims annually nationwide. More recent studies suggest this number may actually be much higher, with a 2016 New York State study indicating the number may be as high as $1.5 billion annually within New York State alone.

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report proposing uniform definitions of elder abuse and its related terms. The report defines elder abuse as "an intentional act or failure to act by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult." The CDC's leadership role in this work helps to position effective study and response squarely within the realm of public health.

This positioning is rooted in the significant implications of elder abuse for the health and well-being of older adults. Research has shown that, regardless of co-morbidities, victims of elder abuse have a 300 percent higher risk of death than those who have not been abused, even where the abuse is relatively mild. A victim of elder abuse is also more than twice as likely to visit a hospital emergency room than a counterpart who has not been the victim of abuse.

The elderly population in America is increasing rapidly, due to the simultaneous aging of the baby boomer generation and the advent of medical advances that allow for extended lifespans. The population of Americans over age 65 is projected to nearly double by 2050, reaching 83.7 million. As this population grows, it is likely that the incidence of elder abuse will continue to increase concomitantly.


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