New report examines elder abuse in Iowa

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.


Ashida named IIPHRP Policy Fellow

A portrait of Prof. Sato Ashida of the Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Sato Ashida

The Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy (IIPHRP) has selected Sato Ashida, UI associate professor of community and behavioral health, as a 2018-2019 Policy Fellow.

The year-long Policy Fellow Program creates opportunities for primary faculty to enhance their skills for translating public health research into practice and policy. Each Policy Fellow develops and implements a project focused on a critical public health topic. Ashida’s project will bring key stakeholders together to develop policy to improve the delivery of emergency management services to older Iowans.

Older adults in the community are especially vulnerable to negative health outcomes during and after disasters. If various agencies involved in emergency management had pertinent information provided by and about older Iowans, outcomes of disaster response and recovery processes conducted by state agencies and local emergency management services could be vastly improved. However, there are barriers to gathering and sharing information about individual residents across agencies and institutions.

Ashida previously developed an online program called PrepWise that allows older adults to establish personalized emergency and disaster plans. The plans include information about medical care and medication needs, functional limitations, cognitive difficulties, emergency support network members, service animals, and other important health needs. Now, Ashida’s goal is to develop policy that will allow state and local agencies to access information pertinent to emergency management that PrepWise participants consent to share with agencies in order to enhance the delivery of emergency services to older Iowans.

Her first step will be to establish a core group comprised of state agencies as well as county experts in emergency management. This group will review efforts in other states and explore dynamics needed to implement a statewide policy that allows incorporating PrepWise into existing disaster management infrastructure.  Once policy recommendations are developed and vetted by this broad group, additional stakeholders will be identified and involved in expanding awareness and dissemination of this potentially life-saving tool.

Learn more about the IIPHRP Policy Fellow Program at

The Complicated Costs of Caregiving

The wave of aging baby boomers means more families are taking on the financial and emotional load of caregiving.


close up of elderly hands on a cane“With age comes wisdom, but some­times age comes alone.” Oscar Wilde was always ready with a quip, but few of us are ready for the more serious aspects of aging. While we all hope to spend our golden years in good mental and physical health, chances are we’ll eventually need help from family members, home health aides, or a long-term care facility.

In the U.S., baby boomers are entering their retirement years and reshaping demographics: the number of Americans ages 65 and older will more than double from 46 million today to more than 98 million by 2060. Add in longer life expectancy, and it’s clear that the rapid “graying of America” will increase demands on already strained resources.

“The rising number of older Americans will put pressure on entitlement programs and create challenges for the labor market and health care systems—as well as family members who provide the majority of care to older adults with disabil­ities,” cautions a report by the Population Reference Bureau.

The Impact of Aging on Families

Some of the major health issues affecting older populations include chronic disease, falls, depression, and dementia. To help improve health outcomes for older adults, the University of Iowa established the Aging Mind and Brain Initiative (AMBI). This interdisciplinary group seeks inno­vative ways to diagnose, prevent, and delay natural or disease-related cognitive, functional, and mental decline with aging.

AMBI investigators Kanika Arora, assistant professor of health management and policy, and Sato Ashida, assistant professor of community and behavioral health, are both based in the College of Public Health. Each was drawn to the subject of aging partly through their own experiences of having a grandparent affected by dementia. Through their respective areas of study, Arora and Ashida are examining the impact on families as an aging relative requires more care.

More than 34 million American adults provide unpaid care to someone age 50 or older, and 60 percent of these caregivers are female, according to a National Alliance for Caregiving/AARP report. The same report notes that caregivers often experience high levels of emotional stress, physical strain, and financial strain.

The Costs of Care

Long-term care can be staggeringly expensive. Nationally, the median annual cost for an in-home health aide (44 hours/week) runs about $49,000. A semi-private room in a nursing home is $85,775. The costs for dementia patients can spiral even higher.

Research has shown that when older adults receive more informal care, they are less likely to go into a nursing home. The intent of Paid Family Leave (PFL) is to make it financially easier for employees to take time off from work to care for children and seriously ill family members. While the United States has no such federal policy, a handful of states are offering PFL programs. Arora co-authored a recent study that examined the effect of California’s PFL policy on long-term care use.

“We found that after the beginning of paid family leave in California, the proportion of older adults in nursing homes went down,” says Arora. “This suggests that workers were able to take time off to care for family members, leading to a reduction in nursing home use.”

Some proposals for PFL programs apply only to parental family leave—the birth or adoption of a child—and don’t include care for family members with a chronic illness.

“I think this is a big part of the conversation we’re missing out on, especially if it affects nursing home use,” says Arora. “Given how expensive nursing homes are, and the fact that seniors like to age at home, policymakers need to consider what is included in paid family leave.”

But the issue is not clear cut. “If family members are providing more care, it could reduce nursing home use and save federal and state dollars—but will it create other costs for employers? If a family member isn’t working in order to provide care, is that good for their own health? The fact that we’re offloading this responsibility onto family members is an issue that needs more careful discussion,” Arora says.

Even if adult children aren’t serving as caregivers, they may still take a financial hit if they provide monetary assistance or incur out-of-pocket expenses on behalf of their parents. Arora has investigated the impact of a parent’s dementia diagnosis on their adult children’s wealth. The study looked only at unmarried children and took a comprehensive view of financial outcomes.

“I found that among those people who were typically adding to their wealth over the years, once there was a parental dementia diagnosis, they were adding much less or nothing at all to their wealth,” Arora says.

 Caregiving Networks

Caregiving often requires many partners. Ashida studies caregiver networks—systems of family members, paid help, and others who provide emotional or instrumental support that enables a primary caregiver to care for an individual.

“A lot of studies look at the caregiver and their feelings, but few studies talk to other people to get their perspective of what’s going on in a caregiving relationship and how that might impact the family dynamics and context,” Ashida says.

One of Ashida’s studies looked at how the expectations members in a caregiving network have about each other can affect everyone involved.

“If my sister is not meeting my expectations in partici­pating in caregiving, it has a detrimental impact on my psychological well-being,” Ashida explains. “That sets the tone for the whole family and the cohesion goes down. Ultimately, the care that people receive is impacted by that.”

Boy gardening with the help of his grandfatherAnother pilot study led by Ashida and funded by AMBI examined the relationship and interactions among family caregivers and paid caregivers (e.g., home health aides, homemaker services, and meal service providers).

“We found that higher collaboration between family caregivers and paid caregivers was associated with higher job satisfaction among the providers and lower depression among the family caregivers,” Ashida says. “Another finding was that when family caregivers perceived that they received emotional support from paid service providers, their mental health score was higher. Even though agencies are focused on task-oriented services, our study suggests that having additional emotional support services could have positive implications on the psychological well-being of the family caregiver, which may allow them to provide better care.”

The Changing Landscape of Caretaking

A number of factors have changed the caretaker role in American society, including high divorce rates, more women in the workforce, families having fewer children, and geographic mobility.

“Family members are moving away, so we need some kind of structure that can support older people in their homes,” Ashida says. “As [aging adults] develop more severe disabilities, who’s going to take on that caregiving role? It’s coming down to community-based providers. It’s not only less expensive, but most older adults prefer to stay at home in their community.”

“Long-term care is inequitable,” Arora adds. “If you’re wealthy, you can afford care. If you’re poor, there is Medicaid. It’s the people in the middle who are affected very differently. We need a long-term care solution from a policy perspective that doesn’t rely on a means-tested program like Medicaid.”

Both researchers mention the importance of engaging seniors with their communities. Arora points to the AARP Foundation Experience Corps, whose trained volunteers work with students in high-need elementary schools. Ashida gives an example from Japan where older adults and families with young children live in condominiums and share a communal kitchen, living spaces, and yard.

“The idea is that older adults can contribute by making meals and supervising kids’ homework or play while their parents are at work,” Ashida says. “I think the key is inter-generational interactions where older people are contributing to younger people. They enjoy it and have a purpose in life, and the younger children look up to the older adults.”

This story originally appeared in the spring 2018 issue of Insight magazine.