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Unreported elder abuse rife among Latino seniors, study finds

Elderly, low-income Latinos suffer high rates of abuse but their mistreatment goes largely unreported, a new study has found.

More than 40% of the Spanish-speaking elders sampled had been abused or neglected in the last year, yet fewer than 2% reported abuse to authorities, according to the study by researchers at USC's Davis School of Gerontology.

The abuse rate was much higher than previously thought, said gerontologist Marguerite DeLiema, who led the study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"This indicates that family solidarity within the Latino community does not necessarily protect older Latinos against elder abuse, as some research has suggested," DeLiema said in written remarks.

According to a USC statement, researchers examined a variety of cases of elder abuse, including sexual and psychological abuse, financial exploitation and caregiver neglect. Based on interviews conducted in Spanish with low-income Latinos over age 65 in Los Angeles neighborhoods, researchers said that 10.7% of that group had been physically abused and that 9% said they had been sexually abused in the last year, according to the statement. 

More than half of those reporting physical abuse said they had been "severely physically assaulted," the study said.

In addition, almost 17% of the Latino seniors said they had been exploited financially and close to 12% said they were neglected by their caregivers, according to information released about the study.

An estimated 5 million cases of elder abuse are believed to occur yearly in the United States, the researchers said.

They attributed under-reporting of the abuse by Latino seniors in part to limited English proficiency, a tendency to live in ethnically segregated communities, and cultural norms that discourage discussing personal matters outside the family.

"We hope that these findings will bring greater national attention to the troubling issue of non-institutional elder abuse, particularly in areas with fewer community resources," senior author Kathleen H. Wilber said in written comments.


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