New report examines elder abuse in Iowa

Published on December 12, 2018

older adult woman sitting in chairA new University of Iowa study finds that older Iowans who experience some form of abuse have little chance of experiencing any resolution. While most older Iowans are doing well, a large and growing number of Iowans over the age of 65 have become vulnerable, says researcher Brian Kaskie, associate professor of health management and policy at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

The report, The Elder Abuse Pathway in East Central Iowa, was co-authored by Kaskie and Leonard Sandler, clinical professor of law and director of the Law and Policy Action Clinic at the University of Iowa College of Law.

Older persons face a number of age-related challenges, including diminishing cognitive capacity, increasing physical frailty, and social isolation, which can lead to dependence on others. The researchers identified five different kinds of abuse, exploitation, or neglect that can be experienced by older adults: neglect, self-neglect, financial exploitation, physical and psychological abuse, and sexual abuse and personal degradation.

Researchers examined activities concerning elder abuse in an area of east central Iowa covering more than 1,000 square miles and two metropolitan areas with a population of more than 300,000. To gather their data, the team held a series of meetings with public agents involved with addressing elder abuse. They also conducted interviews, compiled information from law enforcement, and reviewed laws, regulations, and other data.

The researchers found that prosecution of elder abuse is a relatively rare occurrence, meaning that abusers often go unpunished. According to Kaskie, much more could be done to protect older Iowans and prosecute alleged cases.

“Issues pertaining to older adults just do not seem to compete well among the many other priorities of health, law enforcement, and public health agencies,” Kaskie says “For example, while they are by no means sufficient, public efforts to raise awareness of child abuse seem to be much more developed, and there are comparatively higher amounts of public resources being directed to the identification and investigation of child abuse.”

Despite these many challenges, Kaskie thinks the state of Iowa is poised to take several steps forward in the coming year.

“The issue of elder abuse has become a top priority for many citizen based groups and the network of aging service providers,” he says. “There also have been some signs that the legislature and governor’s office may advance this agenda in 2019.”

Recommendations from the report include: increased funding for state and county attorneys to prosecute elder abuse; involving social workers and therapists in the investigative process; funding for individuals and organizations who can serve as guardians for elders; and public awareness campaigns.

“I am hopeful that the citizens of Iowa and the persons who represent them in our government come to see this as an important bi-partisan issue,” Kaskie says. “The number of older Iowans is not getting any smaller and elder abuse is something that is happening in all corners of the state.”

A PDF of the report is available.