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New Research: 40 Percent of Elderly Latinos Abused

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July 30, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas - A new study of elderly, low-income Latinos reveals significantly higher rates of abuse, neglect and exploitation than previous estimates. The report's lead author, Marguerite DeLiema, University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology, says that, at first glance, abuse of Latino seniors appears to be almost four times more prevalent than elder abuse in the general population.

"One in 10 older adults suffers from some form of abuse, neglect or exploitation. Our study was much higher. We found 40 percent of the Latino population reported at least one form of elder abuse."

She thinks it's possible that her research - based on detailed, in-person interviews by community members - reflects a higher elder abuse rate among the population at large than past studies have been able to document. She says mistreatment need not be physical to qualify as abuse. Family members may repeatedly threaten to send seniors to nursing homes, or take advantage of financial vulnerabilities.

The study calls into question past assumptions that elderly Latinos are shielded from abuse by cultural norms, such as family loyalty. Sometimes solidarity just leads to silence, according to Sandra Garcia Huhn, staff attorney with the Texas Legal Services Center Elder Exploitation Project.

"I think that there is a reluctance by the Hispanic community to discuss problems outside of the family. A lot of times when there is abuse or exploitation they're not reporting it, because they want to protect the family member."

The new study found that about 10 percent of those surveyed revealed physical abuse, 17 percent had been exploited financially, and 12 percent had been neglected by caretakers. But only 1.5 percent of all victims had ever reported the abuse to authorities or service organizations.

Huhn thinks traditional close-knit families who might resist seeking outside help do have an advantage when it comes to protecting seniors against exploitation by outside scammers who tend to prey upon elderly people living alone.

"Sometimes isolation makes it easier for a perpetrator to take advantage of a senior. So, the cohesiveness of the family is not always going to be a negative."

She encourages Texas seniors or concerned loved ones to call the toll-free Elder Exploitation Hotline to find out about a variety of resources for victims of scams, financial manipulation or physical, sexual and emotional abuse. That number is 888-612-6626.

Information about the study is available at http://bit.ly/NNYACb. The TEEP website is based at www.tlsc.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX