Elder Abuse in Ethnic Minorities

Christine Kennard Health Pro
  • Elder abuse is a hidden crime. Elder abuse in ethnic minorities presents certain difficulties for social services and other agencies. In this sharepost I want to introduce the subject and how different cultural and ethnic differences impact on people being abused. Professional caregivers, social service agencies have to be aware to be able to meet the needs of this group of elders.


    Elder abuse crosses racial, ethnic, gender, class, economic and minority group divides. In a recent sharepost written by Carol Bradley Bursack, she reported on a study from the University of California that found nearly half of Alzheimer's patients were abused. It is a shocking and surprising statistic that does not identify race, ethnicity, or culture, yet it exists in all societies as far as we know. Fraud, sexual assault, emotional abuse, neglect, violations of personal rights, physical abuse probably all happen in your own community.

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    I recognise the huge diversity within and across different racial and ethnic groups, but there are a lot of common areas that are identifiable, and that relate to many elders living in the US and in other Western countries. Remembering that, what are the special challenges that abused of elders of racial groups present that can help identify and help them?


    Language may be a barrier

    Many seniors in Asian communities do not speak or read English. They are unable to find out information and know what help may be available to them in their local areas.


    Some may be illiterate so are unable to access written information at heath centers or in the local press, in their library etc. Poor literacy rates more common in first generation immigrant elders.

    Terms may differ

    The term elder abuse is not a term they use or recognise. Conflict may be a better word that has more meaning for them

    Translators may be the perpetrators of abuse

    People who act as their translators (family members) are often the abusers. Research from many countries identifies family members being one of the main perpetrators of this crime.

    Immigration and economic circumstances force reliance on their children

    Lack of financial independence, gender inequalities, fear of being alone in a foreign land are just some of the reasons for this. Abuse victims with disabilities or significant health problems may be unable to work. They also may not be able or eligible to receive Social Security or other benefits.

    Seniors from some ethnic communities are fearful of using their new country's legal system

    Fear or distrust of police and courts may be based on experiences in the ‘old country.' They may be fearful of deportation even if they are citizens. More recent immigrants are less familiar with rights and protections of their adopted country.

    Suffering in other countries

    Many have suffered years of war, torture, extreme poverty, health or other hardships

    Seniors may minimize personal problems

    Avoiding shame, embarrassment, and family conflict are strong cultural traits in many countries. Not admitted problems can mean they feel unable to seek or ask for help when they are being abused. Older victims stay to protect other family members.


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    How Should Help be Offered?

    It is important that you try to find out under what circumstances they will feel better about reporting the abuse they are experiencing. Having someone they trust or respect, like a religious leader/social worker from within their community, a bilingual friend present will make them feel secure enough to report the abuse.


    Seek services/partnerships with services that are experienced in serving seniors from the same racial background to help provide assistance and protection. Use agencies that understand the senior's culture and language.


    More Information on Ethnicity

    Ethnicity and the Experience of Alzheimer's Disease

    Alzheimer's Risk for Hispanics

    The Politics of Prevention


Published On: July 19, 2010