Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Awareness of Elder Abuse, a Growing but Hidden in Asian Communities

Elder abuse can happen by family members
Elder Abuse occurs when someone 60 or older is mistreated. Elder abuse includes emotional, mental and physical abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, and abandonment. Abusers of older people are both women and men and may be family members, friends, or ‘trusted people.’ Family elder abuse affects as many as 2 million seniors in the United States, as well as up to 5 million seniors who are subjected to financial exploitation, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), a program of the U.S. Administration on Aging.

To investigate the elder abuse situation of Asian communities in New York City, GAA Research Associate Nuri Han met with Peter Cheng, Executive Director of Indochina Sino-American Community Center (ISACC). Located in Manhattan’s Chinatown, ISACC has assisted Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Burmese, Philipino, and Malaysian immigrants and refugees integrate into mainstream society by providing programs, services and activities since 1990.

Only one elder abuse program
Two years ago, Cheng recognized elder abuse when one elder client asked the organization’s staff to help him fill out an application for government housing. Cheng knew that the elderly man had purchased a co-op apartment. Cheng, curious why he needed government housing, asked. The elderly man said that he worked hard and purchased the co-op apartment in his son’s name. However, his son did not want to live with him so he was evicted.
Cheng surveyed other clients and found that this man’s situation was not unique. In response, Cheng launched the Chinese Americans Restoring Elders (CARE) Project, the first and only elder abuse prevention program in New York City’s Chinese community. The CARE Project raises awareness of elder abuse and assists older people in need by providing linguistically and culturally appropriate education materials. Unfortunately, due to the lack of funding, only one case worker can be solely devoted to this project.

Growing but hidden
Reflecting the rapid growth of Chinese elders in New York City, the population of Chinese seniors 60 or older is 93,000 persons and will more than double in 10 years. This will be the fastest growth rate among all ethnic groups in New York, according to the City Council. However, nobody knows how many elder abuse cases there are in New York’s Asian community. Even in the majority community, the picture of senior abuse is vague. According to NCEA, the most recent studies show that only one out of six such cases is reported to authorities. For Asian American families, the strong influence of traditional culture brings additional challenges to prevention and protection. Generally Asians believe that respecting older persons is important in Asian culture and thinks that the tradition is well maintained. The concept of elder abuse is easily ignored or unknown. Many Asian American elderly victims tend to hide the abuse or even protect the family member abuser because of shame and fear. A New York State ongoing study finds elder abuse is underreported, only 1 out of 24 cases. According to Cheng, many Asian older people hold an immigration status sponsored by their adult children. They do not speak much English and have few other relatives or friends they can consult. This makes them more vulnerable than seniors in the majority community.

How to solve?
Cheng believes that educating the community to be aware of elder abuse issue is significant to prevent elder abuse and protect older people. Cheng suggested three ways:
Community outreach to educate and raise awareness about elder abuse
Psychological counseling
Legal enforcement and political assistance
Advocacy to government

Elder Justice Act
A little known part of the health care reform law enacted in 2010 is the Elder Justice Act and the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act. For the first time, the law will provide funds to coordinate national research and other efforts to combat elder abuse and exploitation by improving data collection and dissemination and distributing information about best practices to local authorities.
For more information, visit these websites: National Center on Elder Abuse, and the Elder Justice Coalition.

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