Latino Elders Underreport Abuse

Low-income Latino elders, who are often cared for by relatives, are less likely to report abuse, partly because they don't to want to bring vergüenza, or shame, to their family, a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has found.

More than 40 percent of elderly Latinos in the study said they have been mistreated over the past year, yet only 1.5 percent of them have reported it to authorities, according to the study, which was summarized by

Of those who said they were abused, nearly 25 percent said they experienced psychological abuse; some 11 percent physical abuse; 9 percent sexual abuse; and 16.7 percent financial exploitation. The study also found that 11.7 percent said they had been neglected.

But identifying and measuring neglect can be tricky, partly because academics, social-service workers, and even prosecutors who try elderly abuse cases, don't agree on its definition, said Marguerite DeLeimas, lead author of the study.

To determine if Latino elders experienced neglect, the interviewers asked them if they had a need and if there was a caregiver responsible to fill that need. They were asked whether they could look to someone to help prepare their meals, pay their bills, or take them to a doctor's appointment, DeLeimas said.

Cultural beliefs about financial interdependence among family members tend to blur the boundaries of what's considered financial exploitation, according to the report.  In non-Latino communities they have asked, in past studies, if someone was using a senior's ATM card without his consent or had forced an elderly person to transfer her car title to someone else. For this study they asked if someone had taken advantage of "your good nature."

The study, DeLeima said, may indicate that the Latino family solidarity, which is intended to protect families, could also contribute to underreporting abuse because Latino seniors may not want to get their sons or daughters in trouble with authorities.

The study used promotores, Spanish-speaking Latino community health workers, to administer the survey, which lasted between 60 and 90 minutes. About 85 percent of the nearly 200 elderly Latinos surveyed were below the poverty line, DeLeimas said.