Elder Mistreatment: Epidemiological Assessment Methodology

Ron Acierno, Ph.D.*

Epidemiological data on elder mistreatment can be obtained through (1) agency record review, (2) sentinel reports (trained observers in agencies that serve older adults but do not document abuse in official adult protective service [APS] records), (3) translation of criminal justice statistics using age and perpetrator data fields, (4) caretaker/family member interviews (in person or via telephone), and (5) interviews of elderly respondents themselves (in person or via telephone). Each of these assessment formats has been used with older adults, either in isolation or in combination with other methods to generate population estimates of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. These mistreatment categories are typically divided according to perpetrator identity as either familial/spousal abuse or caretaker abuse. A final category of stranger abuse (i.e., stranger assault: physical, sexual, or emotional) may arguably be included under the heading elder mistreatment (with the caveat that risk factors will probably be different) because (a) psychological and health effects are similar to those caused by abuse by family members; (b) a significant proportion of elder mistreatment, particularly in the area of financial exploitation, is perpetrated by strangers; and (c) failure to assess similarly assaultive behaviors by strangers ignores potential mediating factors that might interact with familial abuse to predict medical health and mental health outcome.


Ron Acierno, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center of the Medical University of South Carolina.

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