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Multicultural voices: attitudes of older adults in the United States of America about elder mistreatment



Despite international growth in policies to increase the identification and response to elder abuse and neglect, there remain considerable barriers to treating the problem. Some of these barriers may be attributed to how older adults from different racial/ethnic backgrounds define, experience and seek to remedy elder mistreatment. Using focus group discussions based on case vignettes, this paper examines how older adults from different racial and ethnic backgrounds in the United States of America perceive elder mistreatment. Five focus groups were conducted with African Americans, English-speaking Latinos, Spanish-speaking Latinos, non-Latino Whites and African American care-givers for older adults. While similar definitions and meanings of elder abuse were expressed across the different racial/ethnic groups, Latino participants introduced additional themes of machismo, respect, love and early intervention to stop abuse, suggesting that perceptions/beliefs about elder mistreatment are determined by culture and degree of acculturation in addition to race/ethnicity. Most differences in attitudes occurred within groups, demonstrating that perceptions vary by individual as well as by culture. In identifying scenarios that constitute elder mistreatment, some participants felt that certain cases of abuse are actually the persistence of intimate partner violence into old age. Participants also indicated that victims may prefer to tolerate mistreatment in exchange for other perceived benefits (e.g. companionship, security); and out of fear that they could be placed in an institution if mistreatment is reported. Findings suggest the need for person-centred intervention and prevention models that integrate the cultural background, care needs and individual preferences of older adults.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Marguerite DeLiema, Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, 3715 McClintock Ave, Gero 228-B, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0191, USA. E-mail:


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