Fighting Elder Abuse With Innovation E

By Cynthia Helzel

lder abuse is receiving increas- ing attention from researchers. Among the organized efforts


fund research on issues surrounding elder abuse is the Elder Justice Innovation Grants program established in 2016 by the Administration for Community Living (ACL). The grants fund research and proj- ects that aim to reduce the incidence of elder abuse throughout the country and to aid those who have been mistreated. Elder abuse encompasses more than

physical abuse; it can include neglect, ver- bal abuse, financial exploitation, and sexual abuse. It can be perpetrated by anyone from family members and caregivers to acquain- tances and even fellow residents in senior living communities. According to the National Center on

Elder Abuse, one study found that ap- proximately 10 percent of seniors overall are mistreated in some way, while another concluded that as many as 1 in 13 seniors suffered from some form of abuse in the year preceding the study. The numbers are believed to be much higher—as much as 55 percent—for those with dementia. What is known for certain is that elder abuse is un- derreported and that as the population ages, its incidence will increase. ACL, part of the U.S. Department of

Health and Human Services, was created to help older adults and people with disabilities live safely and successfully in their commu- nities. The ACL’s Elder Justice Innovation Grants program aims to further this goal by helping to fund the creation of programs and research that can help seniors avoid abuse and obtain help if they are mistreat- ed. Each grantee will produce materials and programs for wide distribution upon com- pletion of the project. “There is still a lot we don't know about how we can most effectively prevent and


respond to abuse,” says Edwin Walker, deputy assistant secretary for aging at ACL. “We hope these projects will fill in some of these gaps and provide an evidence base that benefits the entire field of elder justice.” ACL recently awarded its 2017 Elder Jus-

tice Innovation Grants totaling $2.2 million to five nonprofit organizations. Grants were awarded in three categories: Responses to Reduce Harm, for projects serving those who have been mistreated; Adult Maltreatment Outcomes Analysis, for re- search about mistreated adults and their experiences with Adult Protective Services (APS); and APS Administration Promising Practices, which focuses on advancements in APS administration practices. In the category of Responses to Reduce

Harm, a grant was awarded to the Center for Elder Law & Justice, Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y., for its Elder Justice Navigator program, which will help mistreated adults navigate the civil court system. The center serves eight counties in western New York by providing free legal services to seniors, people with disabilities, and those with low incomes. “We saw a gap in the existing elder justice court models,” says Sarah Galvan, the center’s director of development. “Our goal was to think about how we can provide supportive services and a welcoming court environment for older adults who may have experienced maltreatment.” The challenge is to provide that support with- out the large expenses of dedicated space and personnel required for traditional elder justice court models. The project will also create El- der Justice Navigator kits to share with other court systems. Rush University received a Responses to

Reduce Harm grant for testing the effec- tiveness and feasibility of using simulated video surveillance equipment to reduce the incidence of elder abuse in various living sit- uations. The study will be scientifically rig-

orous while remaining mindful of the rights of those participating in the study. “Our ul- timate goal in this study, and as a program, is to reduce elder abuse recidivism, but we recognize that this must not jeopardize the constitutional rights of seniors or potential perpetrators,” says Rush University profes- sor of geriatric medicine, Dr. XinQi Dong. The research will take place in a variety of settings including private property, low-in- come housing, and senior housing, though the equipment will not be tested in assisted living communities or nursing homes. Dr. Dong and his team hope to present their findings by fall 2019.

What is known for certain is that elder abuse is underreported and that as the population ages, its incidence will increase.

Other grants include an Adult Maltreat-

ment Outcomes Analysis category grant awarded to The Regents of the University of California, San Francisco for testing a mobile app to increase the consistency of APS practices, an APS Administration Promising Practices grant awarded to The University of Southern California for training APS workers to use the Interview for Decisional Abilities to determine a cli- ent’s level of decision-making ability, and a second APS Administration Promising Practices grant awarded to The Regents of the University of California, Irvine to develop a program to incorporate elements of trauma-informed care into APS and community agency practice.

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