Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


True Crime

nursing-home

(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 PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


November 21 • 9:12 AM

‘Shirtstorm’ and Sexism in Science

Following the recent T-shirt controversy, it’s clear that sexism in science persists. But the forces driving the gender gap are still being debated.


November 21 • 8:00 AM

What Makes a Film Successful in 2014?

Domestic box office earnings are no longer a reliable metric.



November 21 • 6:00 AM

What Makes a City Unhappy?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dana McMahan splits time between two of the country’s unhappiest cities. She set out to explore the causes of the happiness deficits.


November 21 • 5:04 AM

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends’ perceptions suggest they know something’s off with their pals but like them just the same.


November 21 • 4:00 AM

In 2001 Study, Black Celebrities Judged Harshly in Rape Cases

When accused of rape, black celebrities were viewed more negatively than non-celebrities. The opposite was true of whites.


November 20 • 4:00 PM

Women, Kink, and Sex Addiction: It’s Not Like the Movies

The popular view is that if a woman is into BDSM she’s probably a sex addict, and vice versa. In fact, most kinky women are perfectly happy—and possibly healthier than their vanilla counterparts.


November 20 • 2:00 PM

A Majority of Middle-Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

The disturbing findings of a new study.


November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


November 19 • 9:00 PM

Gays Rights Are Great, but Ixnay on the PDAs

New research suggests both heterosexuals and gay men are uncomfortable with public same-sex kissing.


November 19 • 4:00 PM

The Red Cross’ Own Employees Doubt the Charity’s Ethics

Survey results obtained by ProPublica also show a crisis of trust in the charity’s senior leadership.



November 19 • 2:00 PM

Egg Freezing Isn’t the Feminist Issue You Think It Is

New benefits being offered by Apple and Facebook probably aren’t about discouraging women from becoming mothers at a “natural” age.


Follow us


Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

The Big One

One company, Comcast, will control up to 40 percent of Internet service coverage in the U.S., and 19 of the top 20 cable markets, if a proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is approved by regulators. November/December 2014

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