Elder abuse is a serious problem that’s only likely to increase in the coming years as the elderly population increases. It’s estimated that those over the age of 65 will grow to 20% of the U.S. population by 2030. As the Baby Boomer generation is retiring and living longer, many will also, unfortunately, face the challenges arising from elder abuse.
However, these aren’t challenges that they have to face alone. Growing awareness has led to greater efforts to help identify and report elder abuse. The Elder Abuse Suspicion Index (EASI) is one such effort. Read on to learn more about the EASI and how it assists in identifying and reporting elder abuse.
What Is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse can take many forms, including:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional or psychological abuse
- Financial abuse and exploitation
While these are distinct categories of abuse, it’s important to note that seniors can suffer from multiple types of elder abuse at once, commonly referred to as "polyvictimization."
It’s also important to note that elder abuse can occur where a senior suffers from dementia or some other condition affecting their mental capacity or judgment, but this is not always the case. A senior whose mental capacity is intact can still be vulnerable to abuse when he or she experiences increased dependence on others or feelings of loneliness or fear, or when he or she places a high degree of trust in others, such as caregivers or family members, who have harmful intentions.
Challenges in Identifying and Reporting Abuse
One of the major challenges in combating elder abuse is the identification and reporting of such abuse. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that, on average, only one in every twenty-four cases of elder abuse is actually reported to authorities, with cases of neglect and financial exploitation constituting the majority of underreported cases. This is due, in part, to fear of reporting instances of abuse, or simply the inability to access law enforcement or other support resources.
With these particular challenges, authorities have focused on medical professionals, as their regular contact with elderly patients places them in a unique position to assist in identifying and reporting elder abuse. In fact, most cases of elder abuse are already reported by physicians and health care providers, who are often under legal obligations to report under the laws of their state. Problems arise, however, in cases where elder abuse is not as easily identifiable. That is where the EASI comes into play, as it was specifically designed to provide medical professionals with a standardized questionnaire to identify potential cases of elder abuse.
How Does the EASI Work?
The EASI is a list of six questions that are intended to assist in raising a medical professional's suspicion of elder abuse and in determining whether a case should be reported to authorities. The questions are as follows:
- Have you relied on people for any of the following: bathing, dressing, shopping, banking, or meals?
- Has anyone prevented you from getting food, clothes, medication, glasses, hearing aids, or medical care, or from being with people you wanted to be with?
- Have you been upset because someone talked to you in a way that made you feel shamed or threatened?
- Has anyone tried to force you to sign papers or to use your money against your will?
- Has anyone made you afraid, touched you in ways that you did not want, or hurt you physically?
- [For Doctor]: Did you notice any of the following in the last 12 months: poor eye contact, withdrawn nature, malnourishment, hygiene issues, cuts, bruises, inappropriate clothing, or medication compliance issues?
A “yes” response to any of these questions should raise concerns about elder abuse and lead to a follow-up inquiry. The EASI is intended to be a quick assessment tool and can be used to strengthen the reporting requirement. A study on the effectiveness of the EASI found that it took, on average, two minutes to administer, and 97.2% of doctors found that its use would have either some impact or a large impact on their practice.
For additional information on reporting elder abuse, see FindLaw's "Reporting Elder Abuse" or the resources provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse. For more information on elder abuse generally, see FindLaw's "Elder Abuse Overview.” If you suspect a case of elder abuse, it may also be helpful to consult an attorney that specializes in elder law. For an elder law attorney in your area, see FindLaw's attorney directory.