03:49am Thursday 17 October 2019

Elder Abuse Affects Low-Income Latinos Disproportionately

LOS ANGELES — A sobering new study by researchers from the University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology finds that elder abuse in low-income Latino communities goes largely unreported. More than 40 percent of Latino elders told Spanish-speaking interviewers that they had been abused or neglected in the last year — yet only 1.5 percent of victims said they had ever reported the abuse to authorities.

“Our study has revealed a much higher rate of elder abuse among the Latino community than had been previously thought,” said Marguerite DeLiema of the USC Davis School of Gerontology, lead author of the study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. “This indicates that family solidarity within the Latino community does not necessarily protect older Latinos against elder abuse, as some research has suggested.”

The researchers examined elder abuse that included physical or sexual abuse, psychological abuse, financial exploitation and caregiver neglect. Based on interviews conducted in Spanish in low-income Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles, the researchers found that 10.7 percent of elderly Latinos had been physically abused and 9 percent of elderly Latinos said they had been sexually abused in the last year. Of those reporting physical abuse, more than half indicated they had been severely physically assaulted.

In addition, 16.7 percent of Latino elders said they had been exploited financially and 11.7 percent said they were neglected by their caregivers. Elderly Latinos who had been in the United States longer were more likely to be abused or neglected, the study found.

“Recent studies suggest that more than one in seven older adults is a victim of some type of elder abuse each year. We hope that these findings will bring greater national attention to the troubling issue of non-institutional elder abuse, particularly in areas with fewer community resources,” said senior author Kathleen H. Wilber, Mary Pickford Foundation Professor at the USC Davis School of Gerontology.

With limited English proficiency, ethnically segregated neighborhoods and cultural traditions that include reluctance to discuss problems outside the family, Latino elders are often overlooked in aging research, despite making up 6.7 percent of the U.S. population aged 65 and older. Across all demographic groups, more than 5 million cases of elder abuse are estimated to occur annually in the United States.

All interviews in the USC study were conducted in Spanish by local promotores: Spanish-speaking community health organizers who were recruited and trained to interview Latinos over the age of 65. The promotores went door-to-door on randomly selected blocks in predominantly Latino neighborhoods.

“The findings could lead to the development of more community interventions to raise awareness about and prevent elder abuse within Latino communities — culturally competent programs that disseminate information about elder abuse and provide older Latinos with links to services in their communities,” Wilber said.

Zachary D. Gassoumis of the USC Davis School and Diana C. Homeier of the Keck School of Medicine of USC were co-authors on the study. The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging in the National Institutes of Health (grant number: R21AG030661).

Wilber is also working on a project to increase prosecution of elder financial abuse, a devastating problem that has been shown to lead not only to emotional pain and financial ruin, but also shorter life expectancy.

With funding from the National Institute of Justice and the Archstone Foundation, Wilber, Gassoumis and Adria Navarro of Azusa Pacific University have been studying the success of the Los Angeles County Elder Abuse Forensic Center in bringing criminal prosecutions against those who prey financially on elders. They highlight some of the unique factors of the Forensic Center model in the latest issue of the journal The Gerontologist.

To arrange an interview with a researcher from the USC Davis School of Gerontology (interview available in Spanish) or to request a full-text copy of either article, contact Suzanne Wu at suzanne.wu@usc.edu.

About the USC Davis School of Gerontology
The USC Davis School of Gerontology is the world’s oldest and largest school of its type. Together with its research and services arm, the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center, the USC Davis School’s mission is to improve the quality of life for the older adults of today as well as of tomorrow.

Contact: Suzanne Wu at (213) 740-0252 or suzanne.wu@usc.edu; Jonathan Riggs at (213) 740-0821 or jriggs@usc.edu

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