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Do Definitions of Elder Mistreatment Matter? High Prevalence of Elder Mistreatment among U.S. Chinese Older Adults, Researchers Find

Stephanie Bergren
Chinese Health, Aging, and Policy Program
Rush University Medical Center

(CHICAGO) – In a recent study based on a brief 10-item elder mistreatment (EM) screener, researchers have found that 15.0% of community-dwelling U.S. Chinese older adults are victims of EM, as part of the PINE (Population Study of ChINese Elderly in Chicago) Study at Rush University Medical Center (1). Despite national recognition that EM is a significant public health and human rights issue in the U.S., very little is known about EM in minority aging populations. Within aging studies, there is a lack of consensus regarding the constitution of EM and its cultural relevance in minority populations.

While most existing studies use the “any positive EM items approach” in defining the prevalence of elder abuse, The PINE Study researchers sought out to examine 21 differential definitions of EM with the PINE Study in order to draw more meaningful conclusions. Based on existing studies using a 52-item in-depth assessment of the subtypes of EM, The PINE Study findings still suggest high prevalence of EM across different definitions (2). Prevalence of all the subtypes of EM varied from 13.9% to 25.8% of participants using different definitional criteria compared to EM prevalence of 11.4% in the U.S. elderly general population. Specifically, prevalence of psychosocial abuse ranged from 1.1%-9.8%; prevalence of physical abuse was 1.1% and 0.2% of sexual abuse based on affirmative response to any items; prevalence of caregiver neglect ranged from 4.6% to 11.1%; and prevalence of financial exploitation ranged from 8.9% to 9.3%. There were no statistically significant differences among socio-demographic, socioeconomic, family structure or quality of life characteristics across different strictness of the EM definitions. The PINE Study recommends that linguistic, cultural, and structural barriers should be addressed in order to effectively screen, treat, and prevent EM. A comprehensive assessment of EM should be utilized to capture cultural, social, and family issues with respect to the potential factors contributing to different EM definitions.

The PINE Study, led by Dr. XinQi Dong, MD, MPH, is the largest epidemiological study of U.S Chinese older adults in Western countries with primary aims to examine the psychological and social well-being of Chinese older adults. Using a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach, the PINE Study was able to enroll 3,159 Chinese older adults to participate in this study. Given the rapid growth of the Chinese aging population in the United States, this population-based study provides an important basis for understanding the distribution of illness and disease among one of the most vulnerable minority populations.

1) Journal of Aging and Health 2014; 26(7): 1209-1224
2) Journal of Gerontology, Medical Sciences 2014; 69A(S2) S68-S75