best. For example, fewer than 15 studies on elder mistreatment have been funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) since 1990, and support from other agencies has been even less substantial. As a result, elder mistreatment research has thus far been confined to a small community of investigators who have produced a modest body of knowledge concerning the phenomenology, magnitude, etiology, and consequences of elder mistreatment. Estimates of mistreated elders have been based on sample surveys in local areas and projected to the total U.S. population. Preventive and remedial interventions have been unsystematic, episodic, and poorly evaluated. In recognition of these deficiencies, the National Institute on Aging requested the National Research Council, through the Committee on National Statistics, to establish a panel of experts to assess the current state of knowledge in the area of elder mistreatment and to formulate a set of recommendations for a research agenda in that field.

When the body of published and unpublished research reports on elder mistreatment is examined as a whole, a number of weaknesses emerge:

  • Unclear and inconsistent definitions

  • Unclear and inadequate measures

  • Incomplete professional accounts

  • Lack of population-based data

  • Lack of prospective data

  • Lack of control groups

  • Lack of systematic evaluation studies

Among the factors accounting for these deficiencies are:

  • Little funding and few investigators

  • Methodological uncertainties, especially about surveys

  • Ethical uncertainties regarding research practices

  • Inadequate links between researchers and service agencies

  • Impoverished theory

  • Intertwined and varying research definitions and statutory definitions

  • Divergent research traditions in gerontology and family violence

In order the rectify these problems and to propel the field forward, the panel recommends the following agenda for research.


Basic research on the phenomenology of elder mistreatment is a critical early step in the further development of the field. Such research will lead to

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