Risk Factors and Characteristics

Although early studies were useful in documenting the existence of the problem and promoting state elder abuse policies, they were generally based on data collected from agency files, used small, unrepresentative samples, and lumped together the various types of abuse. Karl Pillemer (1986) sought to overcome some of these methodological weaknesses by interviewing victims directly, adding a nonabused comparison group, and limiting the investigation to physical abuse. His results showed that the abusers were much more likely than the comparison group of caregivers to have mental, emotional, and/or alcohol problems and to be dependent on the victims. Conversely, the abused elders were less functionally dependent than the control group in carrying out their activities of daily living. The families in which abuse occurred also tended to have fewer outside contacts and were less satisfied with them than were their nonabuse counterparts. Similar results have been reported by other researchers (Phillips, 1988; Bristowe and Collins; Anetzberger; Lachs et al., 1997).

A comparison of 328 cases by abuse type revealed three distinct profiles (Wolf et al.). Perpetrators of physical/ psychological abuse were more likely than perpetrators of neglect to have a history of mental illness and alcohol abuse, and to be dependent on the victim for financial resources. The victims were apt to be in poor emotional health but relatively independent in the activities of daily living. In contrast, those cases involving neglect appeared to be very much related to the dependency needs of the victim. Neither psychological problems nor financial dependency was a significant factor in the lives of these perpetrators; instead, the victims were a source of stress. Financial abuse represented still another profile. The victims were generally widowed and had few social supports. The perpetrators had financial problems and histories of substance abuse. Rather than interpersonal pathology or victim dependency, the salient factor in explaining these cases was the desire for money.

Few studies have examined the consequences of elder abuse. Those that have suggest that the effects of abuse infliction may have physical, behavioral, psychological, or social dimensions. In particular, victims of elder abuse seem to experience higher levels of depression than non-victims (Pillemer and Prescott; Harris). Furthermore, they are three times as likely to die sooner (Lachs et al., 1998).

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