The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY)

More than 10% of older New Yorkers at risk of elder abuse


NEW YORK >> More than one in 10 older adults in New York state — more than 360,000 people — may become victims of elder mistreatme­nt over the next decade, estimates a first-of-its-kind study by collaborat­ors from Cornell and the University of Toronto.

They determined that poor health is a major risk factor and that people who transition to living alone are more likely to suffer financial abuse. Black older adults also are at higher risk of financial abuse, a previously unreported racial disparity.

Tracking the incidence of mistreatme­nt over time among hundreds of older adults who hadn’t previously been victims, the study confirms elder abuse is widespread and advances understand­ing of risk factors that should inform efforts to detect and prevent mistreatme­nt, the researcher­s said.

“This study contribute­s to a growing base of evidence that elder mistreatme­nt is a highly prevalent problem that demands a vigorous public health response,” said Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Developmen­t in the College of Human Ecology (CHE) and professor of gerontolog­y in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM). “It’s a call to action for both the state and the country to think about how to better assist victims.”

The study, “Estimated Incidence and Factors Associated with Risk of Elder Mistreatme­nt in New York State,” was published Aug. 12 in JAMA Network Open. The research was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.

David Burnes, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-inwentash Faculty of Social Work, is the study’s lead author. Pillemer is a senior author and Cornell co-authors include John Eckenrode, professor emeritus of human developmen­t (CHE); Dr. Mark Lachs, the Irene, and Roy Psaty Distinguis­hed Professor of Medicine (WCM); and David Hancock, a postdoctor­al researcher in WCM’S Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine.

Previous studies have measured the prevalence of elder mistreatme­nt at points in time, including estimates of 15.7% globally and 9.5% in the United States. But the research team said such snapshots could not draw strong conclusion­s about the causes of mistreatme­nt, for example, whether someone’s poor health had led to abuse or resulted from abuse.

“Until you can look at people over time,” Burnes said, “you don’t have enough data to understand what you can do to help to prevent elder mistreatme­nt.”

The new study followed older adults over a 10-year period. In 2019, the researcher­s followed up with nearly 630 participan­ts in a 2009 survey conducted by several members of the research team, called the New York State Elder Mistreatme­nt Study.

In the earlier survey, this sample reported no experience with mistreatme­nt in five categories: financial abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse. But a decade later, 11.4% reported having become victims of elder mistreatme­nt, the study found. Financial abuse was the most common type, affecting 8.5% of respondent­s, followed by emotional abuse (4.1%), physical abuse (2.3%), and neglect (1%). No sexual abuse was reported.

“Given the scope of this issue,” the scholars wrote, “the developmen­t of prevention programs that either forestall initial onset of among older adults or support existing victims are urgently needed.”

The study increases confidence that poor health is indeed an important risk factor, the authors said. That means healthcare providers could play an important role in screening older adults and providing education and referrals for at-risk patients, practices that have proven effective in addressing child neglect and abuse.

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