Campaigning against elder abuse

UC Irvine receives $1.7 million federal grant to become a national center for information, research

December 01, 2012
Dr. Laura Mosqueda

Citing UC Irvine's award-winning Program in Geriatrics, the U.S. Administration on Aging has designated UC Irvine as the National Center on Elder Abuse, a clearinghouse for practical information supporting federal, state and local efforts to prevent, identify and effectively respond to elder abuse. The agency will provide funding of $561,000 annually for three years.

The NCEA will be led by Dr. Laura Mosqueda and Mary Twomey, co-directors of UC Irvine’s Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse & Neglect, which offers medical, forensic and victim services to abused and neglected seniors, as well as training, research and technical assistance to California law enforcement and social services agencies.

“We’re very excited about this opportunity to expand our elder abuse prevention efforts at the national level,” said Mosqueda, chair of UC Irvine’s Department of Family Medicine, director of its Program in Geriatrics, and Ronald Reagan Chair in Geriatrics. “We look forward to working with many national organizations and individuals, bringing the field together in a major initiative to increase awareness of and find solutions to this significant public health issue.”

Nearly 2 million older Americans are abused each year, according to the Administration on Aging. Orange County agencies receive more than 8,000 reports annually. And for each incident reported, Mosqueda said, at least five more go unreported.

“Elder abuse is wrong. To fight it effectively, we need to build and sustain research, prevention, law enforcement and services,” said Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee.

UC Irvine has become an international model for just that. Recent honors include:

  • In August, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article by Mosqueda on elder abuse and self-neglect, the first time a major U.S. medical journal had identified elder abuse as a significant human rights issue.
  • In April, the U.S. Department of Justice bestowed its 2011 Award for Professional Innovation in Victim Services on UC Irvine’s Elder Abuse Forensic Center, which unites legal, medical, social services and law enforcement experts to improve the investigation and prosecution of elder abuse cases. The center, established in 2003 by Mosqueda and UC Irvine’s geriatrics faculty and staff, was the first of its kind in the country.

“We’re honored to have been selected to be the National Center on Elder Abuse,” said UC Irvine’s Twomey. “None of us ever forgets that this work is about real people who are living in fear, who have had their rights taken from them, and who deserve dignity and respect. We will work to make their lives better.”

The forensic center has evolved into a leading source of information for professionals in the field of elder mistreatment, Twomey says. It has also served as a national model. In 2006, Los Angeles County agencies established a center patterned after UC Irvine’s. There are now four Elder Abuse Forensic Centers in California and one in New York.

In addition, the university has led the way with groundbreaking research. In March 2010, a UC Irvine team published “Screening for Abuse & Neglect of People with Dementia” in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The group also studied bruising as a marker for elder abuse, which has changed how law enforcement investigates and prosecutes suspected elder abuse.

Support from private foundations has been a key element in the development of UC Irvine’s elder abuse work, Twomey says.

In March, the Archstone Foundation and UniHealth Foundation committed more than $800,000 to support much-needed direct medical and psychological services to elder abuse victims.

Since 2000, UC Irvine and supporters like the Archstone Foundation and UniHealth Foundation have developed a range of projects to improve conditions for senior citizens, among them:

  • The Orange County Vulnerable Adult Specialist Team consists of geriatricians and neuropsychologists who provide in-home evaluation of seniors suspected of being abused.
  • The Elder Abuse Training Institute is devoted to educating legal, medical, social services, law enforcement and government personnel about all aspects of elder abuse.

—John D. Murray / University Communications

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