By Gali H. Weissberger, PhD and S. Duke Han, PhD, ABPP-CN
September 04, 2019
The Han Research Lab at the University of Southern California, Department of Family Medicine, recently published findings in the Journal of Applied Gerontology that summarized the types of calls and contacts made to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) resource line over a nearly three-year period. The study garnered significant media attention, and is novel because it is the first to describe call types to the NCEA resource line. Other studies have characterized elder abuse using different data sources, including national surveys and calls made to Adult Protective Services (APS). Study findings are consistent with others, which have found financial abuse to be the most commonly reported type of elder abuse. Also, this study found that family members were the most commonly alleged perpetrators across almost all subtypes of abuse.
One interesting finding that has garnered significant media attention in recent weeks is the finding that family members were the most common perpetrators of financial abuse. The study authors did not predict this would be the case, given the high rate of financial internet and telephone scams, many of which are targeted towards older people. This can be interpreted to mean that family members are in fact the most common perpetrators of financial abuse. However, several caveats exist that may impact this interpretation:
(1) Callers make an initiative to contact the resource line, and thus findings are not fully representative of the population of older people who have experienced abuse. Some older people scammed by strangers may feel embarrassed following an experience of financial exploitation or abuse, resulting in a reluctance to call.
(2) There are mechanisms to directly report financial scams through the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other government agencies, making it less likely that those experiencing scams will seek out resources and information from the NCEA.
Thus, future studies with broader representations of individuals are necessary to confirm or refute the finding that family members are the most common perpetrators of financial abuse.
Despite these caveats, the present study provides a unique source of information regarding elder abuse nationally. Future studies that identify risk factors and target individuals who are at higher risk of experiencing elder abuse are important steps forward to inform prevention and intervention programs.
Conclusion: The NCEA resource line serves as a public access point for individuals seeking resources or referrals regarding how to identify or report elder abuse. More than half of the calls made to the NCEA did not allege abuse, thus highlighting the important role of the NCEA in educating and providing resources to the community. Findings of this study emphasize the importance of resource lines for those seeking information on elder abuse, as many calls were made to understand whether certain situations reflect abuse. This is important because although elder abuse is a growing concern in the United States and internationally, public awareness and information on how to report abuse is still lacking.