Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us

True Crime


(Photo: Ulrich Joho/Flickr)

The Fight for Elder Rights

• July 15, 2014 • 12:00 PM

(Photo: Ulrich Joho/Flickr)

A review of new proposals to put a stop to elder abuse and support the rights of the elderly around the world.

In California last month, a caretaker at a health center was arrested for taking her older patient’s credit card on a shopping spree. In Illinois last month, a woman hired to care for a bedridden elderly woman was caught on camera tying her up and beating her. And nursing home staff cutting budgets across the country are repeatedly revealed to be unprepared and untrained for their residents’ medical needs.

These stories are as common as they are upsetting. Pacific Standard has shown how older people are common targets for things like lottery scams and fake charities. But elder abuse is a category that covers much more than just talking a sweet old lady out of her last few bucks. It’s not a topic that’s discussed as often as child abuse, but aging people who have limited mobility, limited means, or diminished mental abilities can obviously be vulnerable to abuse and neglect of all kinds.

The Department of Justice has also recently tried to attract attention to elder abuse by offering a new training program for civil legal aid attorneys who would represent older clients.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that elder abuse affects five million Americans a year, and that, for every one case that comes to light, there are 23 more that remain hidden. Abuse can include “physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as neglect, abandonment, and financial exploitation.” And according to a new “Roadmap” project to improve research and policy, it will take a wide range of actions to address it—including better public awareness, studying brain health issues, and providing more support for caregivers of the elderly.

In the legal realm, the Department of Justice has also recently tried to attract attention to elder abuse by offering a new training program for civil legal aid attorneys who would represent older clients. On the state level, some states are now making it mandatory to report suspected elder abuse, just like the reporting of child abuse has been.

But others are working on a bolder and more comprehensive illustration of this huge issue. The John Marshall Law School, Roosevelt University, and East China University of Political Science and Law joined at a conference last week to draft “The Chicago Declaration on the Rights of Older Persons,” which they will present to the United Nations next month. It’s a wide-sweeping and official document on human rights, but it starts off somewhat poetically:

(a) Recognizing the wisdom, contributions, and vision derived from the sacrifice and experience of older persons and their positive effect on life and culture around the world; and recognizing that the great increase in life expectancy that has taken place in the past century should not be perceived as a burden for society but as a positive trend….

The declaration suggests not only measures to stop elder abuse, but also general policies that can help fight age discrimination in the workplace, and give older people more say in their medical decisions. “Older persons have the right to protection from medical abuses, including forced hospitalization on the basis of age, and nonconsensual medical experimentation,” it declares, chillingly. “Older persons have a right to be free from all forms of exploitation, violence, abuse, and neglect.”

After stating policy recommendations and obligations for governments around the world, the declaration takes care to make itself as broad as possible. And in doing so, it not only expands the definition of who would fall under its protection—it also expands the scope of who is responsible for doing the protecting.

“For the purposes of the present Declaration, an ‘older person’ is generally any person who solely due to chronological age is considered under local or national law to be an older person or is perceived as being an older person,” it concludes. “This Declaration recognizes that a specific age at which a person is considered or is perceived as being an older person will vary from country, region, setting, change in social role, capabilities, and other circumstances.”

Lauren Kirchner
Lauren Kirchner is the Web editor of The Baffler. She has written for the Columbia Journalism Review, Capital New York, Slate, The Awl, The Hairpin, and many others. Follow her on Twitter @lkirchner.

More From Lauren Kirchner

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 31 • 4:00 PM

Should the Victims of the War on Drugs Receive Reparations?

A drug war Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of post-apartheid South Africa is a radical idea proposed by the Green Party. asks their candidates for New York State’s gubernatorial election to tell us more.

October 31 • 2:00 PM

India’s Struggle to Get Reliable Power to Hundreds of Millions of People

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known as a “big thinker” when it comes to energy. But in his country’s case, could thinking big be a huge mistake?

October 31 • 12:00 PM

In the Picture: SNAP Food Benefits, Birthday Cake, and Walmart

In every issue, we fix our gaze on an everyday photograph and chase down facts about details in the frame.

October 31 • 10:15 AM

Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.

October 31 • 8:00 AM

Who Wants a Cute Congressman?

You probably do—even if you won’t admit it. In politics, looks aren’t everything, but they’re definitely something.

October 31 • 7:00 AM

Why Scientists Make Promises They Can’t Keep

A research proposal that is totally upfront about the uncertainty of the scientific process and its potential benefits might never pass governmental muster.

October 31 • 6:12 AM

The Psychology of a Horror Movie Fan

Scientists have tried to figure out the appeal of axe murderers and creepy dolls, but it mostly remains a spooky mystery.

October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”

October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.

October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.

October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.

October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.

October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.

October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.

October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?

October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.

October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.

October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.

October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?

October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.

October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.

October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.

October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.

Follow us

Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.