to approach its temporal aspects and severity. The vast majority of measures have focused on the determination of whether elder mistreatment has occurred using a wide range of methods and definitions. Many studies have assessed the occurrence of mistreatment by review of protective agency records, study of sentinel reports (reports of professionals serving older adults), or criminal justice system statistics. These have used typically unstandardized or vague definitions of abuse and neglect, many based on the wording of state statutes, and have significant methodological weakness.

A few researchers have tackled the problem directly, but they have used definitions or measures that have varied from study to study. In some cases, methods have been developed to assess the occurrence of elder abuse using telephone or in-person interviews of family members or proxies or direct assessments of samples of older adults. However, there is a dearth of such measures, and most existing measures have had limited assessment of their measurement characteristics, reliability, or validity. Furthermore, the measures used have almost always been direct adaptations of measures intended for other purposes or for other settings (e.g., the Conflict Tactics Scale was intended to measure interpersonal violence for married couples and was modified by Pillemer and Finkelhor to assess abuse of older people by their caregivers). As well, existing measures are inadequately differentiated or specialized. They do not, for example, distinguish clearly the types of harm they are measuring (physical, emotional, etc.) or differentiate the measures according to whether they are intended to screen for harm, define its occurrence, or measure its severity.

The elder mistreatment field is lacking in descriptive methodological research on how to measure consequences that are related to mistreatment. As Dyer et al. (this volume) note, no studies have carefully described the different types of harms that mistreated older persons may suffer, the interrelationship of the different harms (e.g., relationship of physical to emotional to financial), the severity of harms, their characteristics, and their clinical course. In addition, few studies have compared different approaches to the measurement of harms. The greatest gap relates to psychological consequences of elder mistreatment. This sort of information is key to the ability to develop measures that are methodologically sound. Basic methodological research should also be an early priority in the field.


Whether certain facts, collected using the methods discussed so far in this chapter, constitute mistreatment is a matter of definition and judgment. The researcher’s main goal should be to make the process as transparent as possible. The facts, collected as above, must be assessed against an a priori

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