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Researcher Explores the Role of the Victim in Elder Abuse, and Earns Top Conference Paper

Posted May. 14, 2013

Mei-Chen Lin, associate professor and graduate coordinator in the School of Communication Studies at Kent State University, recently earned the top paper and will be presenting at this year’s International Communication Association’s (ICA) 63rd Annual Conference in June in London, England. Lin’s paper titled, “Problematic family interaction: A communication model of elder abuse and neglect” was named top paper in the Division of Instructional and Communication Development.

Paul Haridakis, director in the School of Communication Studies said, “ ICA is the top communication conference in the field of communication... The article sets forth a theoretical model that accounts for attributes of both elders and caretakers that jointly influence likelihood and types of elder abuse.”

Lin’s research focuses on elder abuse in the family setting and the role of the victim in abusive situations. While elder abuse has been a growing area of research and media interest since the late 1970s, it is rarely addressed in the communication discipline, Lin says, and an even less frequently discussed aspect is the role of older adults, the victim, in the situation.  

The theoretical model asks readers to consider the communication features of the elder victim that may breed elder abuse. While the model challenges the assumption that the older adult (the victim) is always a passive recipient of the abuse, it does not seek to place blame on the victim.

Grounded in the model of child abuse, which focuses on the negative behaviors of the child victim, Lin’s model looks at the communicative aspects of the victims of abuse.

“Communication is two-way, it’s dynamic. A lot of things that you do can cause your caregiver to get frustrated,” Lin says. She cites examples like repeated patronizing communication from the elderly, complaining or off-topic verbosity, which is due to the decline of the frontal lobe of the brain and lack of focus. These may possibly add to family caregiver’s perceived stress, among other reasons. Even if a caregiver does a good job without any physical neglect or harm, he or she may still engage in abusive behaviors by communicatively neglecting the elder care receiver. 

Howard Giles, professor in the Department of Communication at University of California at Santa Barbara and Lin’s co-author, was one of the first communication scholars to explore elder abuse and neglect.   

“The combination could lead to different kinds of abuse. It introduces the other side of the situation, which is what makes the model very unique,” Lin says.

Lin plans to test the proposed model as the next step to understand the utility and explanatory power of the model. She hopes to eventually offer evidence-based training programs to better prepare family caregivers and older adults for aging processes.