Addressing Elder Abuse in the Aging Boom

Jun 20, 2013, 16:57 ET from LeadingAge Texas

AUSTIN, Texas, June 20, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following article is written by David Thomason, PhD, LeadingAge Texas, Consultant:

In 1950, the average global life expectancy was 48 years old. Today, the average global life expectancy is 68 years old. The World Health Organization, in a recent report on aging, projected that those 60 and over worldwide will double, from currently 600 million to 1.2 billion by 2025.

In the United States, the first of the Baby Boomer generation are reaching age 65. According to the Pew Research Center, 10,000 Baby Boomers will reach age 65 each day for the next 19 years.  

Critical to the increased aging population is a rise in elderly abuse. Saturday, June 15th marked World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Elder abuse has arguably reached an epidemic level both in the United States and globally. Estimates by National Center on Elder Abuse are that as many as 10 percent of all elders in the United States experience some physical abuse, with over 90 percent of the abuse by family members of the elderly.

Clearly, the issue deserves careful attention by policymakers. Where should policymakers begin to address the causes of this epidemic? How can policymakers reduce the likelihood of elder abuse?

Policymakers should address the issue of respite care for families of an aging person. The strain of caring for someone aging can often take a physical and financial toll on families. In the case of Alzheimer's, the stress of caring for a family member is a constant struggle. The Alzheimer's Association reports that one third of family caregivers suffer from some form of depression.  

The cost on the family caregiver is also economic. According to the Alzheimer's Association, the unpaid care for those with Alzheimer's and other dementias totaled $202.6 billion in 2010. Such pressure on family members creates a powder keg in the home. Workplace absences, physical exhaustion, and a general sense of isolation can lead to violent outbursts towards the elderly person. Federal and state elected officials are beginning to recognize that investing in respite care policies can prevent the possible health and safety hazards but policymakers should move more rapidly to fund and provide availability for respite care.

A misunderstanding among policymakers is that social service spending, particularly Medicaid, is a money pit for public budgeting. Few candidates discuss aging policy, unless it is to highlight the problems of institutional care. What lawmakers overlook in the rhetoric surrounding the cost of social services is the economic investment such programs provide to a community.

Aging services is a particularly labor intensive area. Economic multiplier estimates suggest that for every dollar invested in the care of our elderly, the local economy receives an additional seven dollars. Investing in the care and safety of our elderly, then, not only protects some of the most vulnerable members of our society, but it also creates an economic return for the community.

Policymakers would do well to remember those frail and aging members of our communities. Not only because it is the right thing for human rights, but because it is the right thing to do economically. The aging boom is just beginning and where we go with our policy decisions in the next several years will be critical to stemming the epidemic of elderly abuse and discrimination.

Dr. David Thomason is the chair of the Texas Senior Advocacy Coalition. He has a Ph.D. from Arizona State University in political science. Dr. Thomason is the owner of Advocacy Gauge, a political and advocacy consulting firm in Austin, TX. He teaches public policy. He has worked for LeadingAge Texas, Texas Legislature, Arizona Legislature, and a member of the United States Congress. Dr. Thomason lives in Austin, TX. 

LeadingAge Texas is a membership organization comprised of over 275 not-for-profit faith and community based organizations dedicated to serving Texas retirees. Its mission is to better serve the aging population in Texas.

SOURCE LeadingAge Texas