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The Third Tamkin Symposium on Elder Abuse: Propelling the Field through Personal Connections, Research, and Practice

By Lori Mars, JD

It’s hard to believe with the proliferation of the COVID-19 pandemic wending its way across the globe and into our lives, that just three short weeks ago elder abuse researchers, practitioners, and advocates convened in a communal embrace at the Tamkin Symposium in Pasadena, California. As current health protocols mandate, today we are increasingly insulated from colleagues and community. Conference discussions that centered on the threat of social isolation have given way to social distancing in our new daily reality. Hopefully, we will return to normalcy in the months ahead. And, while coronavirus and elder mistreatment are disparate in form, transmission, and impact, there are parallels. For those in the field, it is no secret that elder mistreatment is a public health concern, deeply complex,  and without ready answers or quick remedies.

In the search for abuse preventions and interventions, the Tamkin Symposium provides a unique and unequaled forum for academics and providers to present, exchange, and discuss ideas. This year’s theme, Linking Research to Practice, underscored concepts in contrast and alignment. Traditional theoretical and definitional underpinnings were challenged across domains. Following is a snapshot of the shared insights.

Definitions and Remedies

Several scholars questioned characterizations of abused older adults as victims, a designation many mistreated elders are disinclined to accept. To this point, existing interventions were re-examined in light of person-centered goals. Academics addressed the tension between preserving an elder’s preferences and autonomy against protective considerations of safety and security. Opportunities to support personal independence and goals through supported decision-making and elder advocates were cited. Similarly, panelists noted older adults’ increasing desire for harm reduction or nuanced, restorative relief over criminal justice remedies.   

Evaluating Systems

In line with reassessing effective resolutions, Symposium presenters affirmed the importance of evaluating current strategies and systems. Studies are well underway to measure the efficacy of Adult Protective Services’ programs and client outcomes to better support older adults who have been mistreated. The Department of Justice’s National Elder Abuse Victim Needs Assessment of community dwelling older adults also promises to optimize protocols. Intended to understand the needs of older people and the extent to which their desires align with existing resolutions, the assessment will inform best practice approaches to elder safety and security.

Long-term Care Studies

International researchers shared recent and ongoing studies on the prevalence of abuse and neglect in Norwegian nursing homes. They explored relative-resident, staff-resident, and resident-resident mistreatment. Surveys of administrators revealed discrepant perceptions and experiences of staff-resident mistreatment, specifically their reluctance to acknowledge and discuss abuse and neglect. Additional studies are being designed to further expose systemic abuse and increase reporting of deficiencies. 

Neurological Impact

Scientists highlighted the interrelationship between behavioral conduct and its underlying neurological impact on older adults. Neuro-immunologist Steven Cole, PhD addressed the connection between macro-level social engagement and virtue-mediated lifestyles with resulting genomic expression and enhanced wellbeing. While neurologist Duke Han, PhD, explained the consequences of age-associated financial vulnerability – structural and functional neurological changes in the absence of dementia-related disorders – which could signal poor decision-making and susceptibility to financial scams and exploitation.

Screening Tools and Successful Interventions
Several screening instruments were featured, including a tool for emergency medical technicians
(DETECT), a forensic documentation instrument for clinicians (Geri-IDT), a financial screening for providers (FDT), and an elder abuse risk-assessment tool for probate judges (AIM Judicial Tool). Also notable were the expansion of successful interventions such as multidisciplinary teams and forensic centers, and promising person-centered approaches like elder shelters.

Personal Moments

Among the many takeaways from the Symposium, were the personal experiences of presenters, which added depth to the collaborative interchange. Speakers shared intimate insights from their lives – the early traumas, exposure to nursing home neglect, and influential mentorships – which informed their passion for the field and respective professional journeys.

Though Mrs. Judith Tamkin who generously sponsored the Symposium was unable to attend, her commitment to the convening was valued by the researchers, practitioners, and advocates in attendance. The Symposium fostered collective engagement among those committed to examining the complexities and competencies of current interventions, and working towards the prevention of elder mistreatment. By the 2022 Symposium, with Mrs. Tamkin present, we look towards theory-informed, best practice preventions which assure safety, equity, and justice for all older adults.

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Special Thanks to Judith D. Tamkin

We are sincerely appreciative to Judith D. Tamkin for her gift to help establish the USC Center on Elder Mistreatment’s website. Her deep and personal commitment to eradicating elder abuse is helping to reshape our understanding of elder abuse and ultimately save innumerable older adults from abuse and neglect.