Elder Abuse: Innovative Solutions to Address a Growing Problem

Elder Abuse: Innovative Solutions to Address a Growing Problem

Guest post by: Sierra Smucker, Esther Friedman, Meagan Cahill, and Jirka Taylor, RAND Corporation

When older adults experience abuse in the home, they often find themselves with no safe place to go. A new shelter model, pioneered in New York City, may represent one path forward.

Like domestic violence, abusers in cases of elder abuse are typically a family member and almost always someone the person trusts. However, unlike typical domestic violence cases, older adults experiencing abuse may need medical care for chronic conditions, support for cognitive decline, or legal service tailored to common types of elder abuse like financial abuse. Consequently, the majority of shelters designed for victims of domestic abuse may not meet the needs of victims of elder abuse.

This gap in services is a growing problem. The number of older adults in the United States is increasing rapidly. Estimates suggest that about 15% of adults over 60 experience abuse every year. People subjected to elder abuse are more likely to experience depression, cognitive decline, reduced quality of life, and premature mortality. The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the need for unique services – especially temporary housing – for individuals experiencing elder abuse. For victims of domestic abuse more broadly, the pandemic has made escaping abusive environments even more difficult.

In short, there is a significant need for innovative approaches to providing emergency shelter and services for victims of elder abuse.

In 2004, the Hebrew Home established one of the first long-term care shelters for victims of elder abuse: the Weinberg Center, which builds on the Hebrew Home’s comprehensive delivery system to provide direct intervention in cases of abuse and neglect. By embedding a shelter in a long-term care facility tailored to the needs of older adults, the Weinberg Center is able to meet the needs of clients in three ways: by providing stable and appropriate housing, medical services, and access to multidisciplinary teams including a legal staff specializing in elder abuse cases.

Our team recently completed an initial evaluation of the Weinberg Center and found that there are large potential savings created by such a model. Elder abuse creates costs for victims – through fraud and theft – and for local, state, and federal government – by increasing the need for medical care, social services, and putting strain on the legal system. We found, through illustrative vignettes, that the housing, medical care, social and legal services provided by the Weinberg Center could decrease these costs substantially. While a thorough evaluation is needed to confirm these findings, we are hopeful that our results suggest that there is a path forward to addressing the growing needs of older adults experiencing abuse. Also encouraging is the fact that this path forward is scalable and achievable in other supportive living facilities.

As policy makers and researchers attempt to address the needs of the growing number of older Americans – and older adults around the world – solutions to elder abuse could represent a key part of that effort. Leaders could look to innovative solutions like the program developed at the Weinberg Center to ensure that victims of elder abuse are not forced to choose between staying in an abusive environment and risking their health and safety outside the home.

Sierra Smucker is an associate policy researcher, Esther Friedman is a behavioral scientist, Meagan Cahill is a senior policy researcher, and Jirka Taylor is a policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.