Nationwide, public and private sector laws and policies to elder abuse and neglect are fragmented and do not sufficiently address a problem that, if left under-addressed, may grow overtime with the number of seniors in the country’s population, two social work authors of a state law and policy research study on the subject said during their panel at a conference on aging.
Stacey Jirik, BSW, with the DuPage County Senior Services in Illinois and Sara Sanders, Ph.D, MSW, associate professor and Hartford faculty scholar, undergraduate social work program director at the University of Iowa and gerontology and end-of-life care expert, recommended more unified strategies when they discussed their 50-state study of federal and state senior abuse and neglect laws and policies, titled “Elder Abuse in the United States: An Analysis of Elder Abuse Policy and State Elder Abuse Statutes.”
Urging social workers, case managers, state directors of federal Area Agencies on Aging (AAA), registered nurses, home health care workers, elder abuse investigators and academicians to relate their professional experiences with elder abuse and neglect, Jirik and Sanders compared notes about laws and policies of the different states conference attendees hailed from.
During the panel, participants identified their state and the most effective solutions, greatest challenges, funding, attempts at advocacy, training, elder abuse and dependent adult abuse laws, mandatory reporting and penalties confronting elder abuse and neglect.
As the population continues to age, both social work experts said, the specter of elder abuse and neglect will loom larger. Their study, which encompasses legal statutes and policies across the country, found that between 1 to 27 percent of seniors are abused and that, for every case that is reported, 14 are not.
Meanwhile, the two panelists said, the U.S. Census 2010 found seniors make up 13 percent of the nation’s population or 40.3 million people. Government estimates project that, by the year 2030, one of every five persons in the nation will be aged 65 and older. This is, in large part, due to the medical and technological advancements that increase the life span for aging Baby Boomers.
Many researchers believe that senior abuse and neglect law and policy are in the same state that the issue of child abuse had 30 years ago and that the subject of domestic violence had 15 years ago, both said. Some have described the problem of elder abuse as a “patchwork quilt” of so many factors making an influence independently, making for disparate solutions to the problem.
Jirik and Sanders concluded that, over the decades, senior abuse has not received the same level and degree of “attention from professionals or the public” that child abuse and domestic violence have been given.
Both explained that elder abuse is not well-addressed because of the lack of societal value placed on older adults. With respect to detecting, treating and reporting elder abuse and neglect, physicians have not been involved in the overall effort because it has not been incorporated into their medical training, they said.
The public’s ageist attitudes and lack of awareness and an aging victim’s fear of retaliation contribute to inaction, they added. And resources needed to combat elder abuse at the federal, state and local level are limited when compared with that afforded child abuse and domestic violence.
By contrast, they said, government, business and nonprofit efforts are most effective against elder abuse and neglect when the victims of abuse are actively engaged in the fight, a wealth of research exists on the subject and there is a great deal of media attention.
Both social work experts recommended that policymakers and care professionals achieve greater uniformity among state laws in terms of the number of categories of elder abuse and protective remedies enacted and used, including for seniors not covered by dependent adult abuse laws.
They also called for more research on federal and state laws and policies to analyze and interpret such factors as the connection between the wording or length of laws and the types of elder abuse reports, the type of reports accepted or the overall outcome of senior abuse cases. They asked panel participants to deepen their understanding of how the federal and state laws and policies work and to articulate their “positive and negative aspects.”
Jirik and Sanders urged participants to become advocates against senior abuse and make its victims a priority, fighting against accompanying social stigma, a lack of funding for intervention programs and the pervasive ageism that leads to public apathy or inaction.