First, is the problem of sufficient magnitude to warrant large-scale public concern, including such measures as mandatory reporting laws and protective services? Better data on the true prevalence of elder mistreatment are needed in deciding what action government ought to take.
Second, what are the characteristics of locations, conditions, situations, and relationships in which the elderly are most vulnerable to mistreatment? To design and implement intervention programs, policy makers and service providers must learn more about the factors that increase or decrease the risk of mistreatment and the conditions that ensure safety.
Third, what interventions prevent elder mistreatment and ameliorate its effects? Extensive evaluation research using scientifically sound research designs is critically needed.
Why is knowledge about elder mistreatment so underdeveloped? What accounts for the paucity of sound research in this important area? The panel has identified a number of explanatory factors.
Many investigators believe that victims and family members are not suitable respondents for interview studies of elder mistreatment, because they are not reliable respondents, because they are not willing to be interviewed, or because they are incapable of giving the necessary consent. In fact, many victims are more than willing to be interviewed and are reliable respondents able to give the necessary consent. Surveys including such respondents have uncovered serious cases of mistreatment, and a variety of studies have been conducted in which victims have been interviewed.
In general, methods that have been used successfully to investigate other forms of family violence have not been applied to research on elder mistreatment. Gerontologists who study elder mistreatment have tended to follow their interests in family caregiving and have seen the problem in this context. However, because much elder mistreatment does not occur in family caregiving situations, this has been a serious limitation. Furthermore, the technology for studying family violence has been developed and refined not by gerontologists, but by child abuse and intimate partner researchers. Elder mistreatment researchers have not been trained in methods of studying other forms of family violence, including sampling methodologies and measurement techniques.
One example of this problem is the lack of studies using the Conflict Tactics Scale (Straus, 1978; Straus and Gelles, 1990, 1992) to study elder mistreatment. Regardless of the occasional controversy over the scale, it is a hallmark instrument that has been used in scores of studies of child abuse