Academic journal article Social Work Research

A Multivariate Examination of Explanations for the Occurrence of Elder Abuse

Academic journal article Social Work Research

A Multivariate Examination of Explanations for the Occurrence of Elder Abuse

Article excerpt

The goal of the study was to determine the relative strength of four major explanations for the rise of elder abuse among a population in transition from traditional to modern culture. The study compared a sample of 120 abused elderly Arab Israelis with a control group of 120 nonabused older adults from the same background. The abuse status outcome was regressed in a hierarchical logistic procedure on indicators of sociodemographic status, dependency, modernization, and social integration. The results underscored the multiple explanations for elder abuse in the study population and the predominance of the combined factors of modernization and social integration.

Key words: abuse; Arab Israelis; elderly people; modernization; social integration; social network


Elder abuse is a growing phenomenon across a range of societies and populations (Ogg & Munngiddings, 1993; Penhale & Kingston, 1995). Research on this social problem has tended to focus on estimates of its prevalence (Comijs, Pot, Smit, Bouter, & Jonker, 1998; Pavlik, Hyman, Festa, & Dyer, 2001) and on characterizations of its perpetrators and victims (Lachs, Williams, O'Brien, Hurst, & Horwitz, 1997; Lithwick, Beaulieu, Gravel, & Straka, 1999). Little investigation has been done on explanations for emergence of the phenomenon (Pittaway, Westhues, & Peressini, 1995).

Estimates of elder abuse in the Western world vary widely, making it difficult to confirm the extent of the problem (Comijs et al., 1998; Kurrle, Sadler, Lockwood, & Cameron, 1997; Pillemer & Finkelhor, 1988; Pittaway & Westhues, 1993; Thomas, 2000). In many cases the phenomenon is underreported. Physical and psychological symptoms of abuse may be denied by victims of misinterpreted by services personnel as normal concomitants of aging (Fulmer et al., 1999). Moreover, the lack of satisfying treatment alternatives on behalf of abused older people is a disincentive to reporting of risk status. A frequent solution offered to victims of elder abuse is safe haven in a care facility, but this comes with a loss of personal liberty (Sadler, 1994).

Elder abuse among traditional Third World and ethnic minority populations is an even less examined phenomenon. Such abuse is seen to be a concomitant of modernization and, thus, contradictory to traditional values (Kosberg & Garcia, 1995; Nagpaul, 1997; Su & Ferraro, 1997). It has been claimed, in this regard, that abusive behavior toward older people is less manifested in traditional societies (Sharon & Zoabi, 1997). However, traditional values may be offset by the jeopardy of minority status among mixed populations, exacerbating the risk of abuse among older adults from traditional backgrounds. Given the growing number of Third World elderly people who migrate in later life to join their families in Western countries, it is important to examine the abuse phenomenon in situations of cultural change (Le, 1997; Montoya, 1997; Moon & Williams, 1993; Vazquez & Rosa, 1999).

The present study examined the predictors of abuse among elderly Arab Israelis. This study population reflects a culture undergoing rapid social change from traditional agrarian society to modern urban life (Lowenstein, 1995; Meir & Ben-David, 1993). Study of this population allows simultaneous consideration of several explanations for elder abuse and examination of their relative predictive strength.


Sociodemographic Status

Attempts to explain the emergence of elder abuse have focused on the sociodemographic characteristics of victims and perpetrators (Hudson, 1986; Lau & Kosberg, 1979). Three victim variables--age, gender, and economic status--have been frequently cited, although not always in the same direction.

Victims of elder abuse belong, more often than not, to the category of the old-old, that is, people ages older 75 and (Kosberg, 1988; Pritchard, 1993). …

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