Protection of Our Elderly: a Multidisciplinary Collaborative Solution for Alaska

Publication year2013


Alaska Law Review
Volume 30, No. 1, June 2013
Cited: 30 Alaska L. Rev. 47


Elisia Gatmen Kupris [*]


"Alaska seniors are vital to our state. They are employers and employees, volunteers and mentors, family anchors, caregivers and care receivers in the Alaskan community. Alaska seniors are the pioneers who developed our state and continue to improve the communities where they live. [1]

The elderly population's significance in modern society is paramount. [2] In Alaska, a state enriched with Native Alaskan culture that is also home to one of the fastest-growing elderly populations in the entire country, [3] the elderly's presence in the community cannot be underestimated. Elders in Native Alaskan communities are believed to be the cultural preservationists and wisdom keepers, sharing their knowledge with the younger generations. [4] Retired Alaska seniors provide massive support to the state's economy through their annual spending of approximately $1.7 billion in healthcare costs and retirement pension funds, a total that outweighs the economic contribution of Alaska's tourism and seafood industries. [5] Despite the massive contributions that seniors provide to the state, a pandemic stands in the way of allowing Alaska's elderly, especially those in Native communities, to continue imparting their influence on society. The pandemic is elder abuse.

Such abuse carries severe repercussions, but "elder abuse is still a national blind spot." [6] The implementation of the Elder Justice Act of 2009 ("EJA") exemplifies the lack of discussions surrounding the protection of seniors. [7] Congress enacted the EJA to assist with the movement to eradicate mistreatment of the elderly mainly by providing leadership at the federal level. [8] While the EJA should accomplish great feats in the realm of protecting elders, politics will still create unnecessary barriers to the ultimate goal of protecting the nation's elderly from mistreatment.

This Article focuses on the abuse of the elderly in the Alaskan community and the ways in which protection against abuse can prevail. Parts 1 and 11 discuss the relevant background information and the current means of protection against elder abuse. Part 111 examines the Elder Justice Act and the impact of the EJA on the nation and in Alaska, specifically. Finally, Part IV explores two approaches to combat elder abuse in Alaska.

Currently, the government has tackled elder abuse through two strategies. The first involves instituting court-focused elder abuse initiatives, similar to those enacted in five states that currently provide such programs for their seniors, that are sensitive to the special needs required of the elderly in the legal process and that ensure that seniors are able to obtain justice. The second strategy entails creating an elder abuse forensic center that services elders across the state by instituting an agency focused on multidisciplinary collaboration that investigates and prosecutes cases of elder abuse and mistreatment. Though both approaches may pose challenges with their execution, each strategy should protect elders from occurrences of mistreatment and educate the public about the existence of elder abuse.

Elder abuse is defined as "[a]ny knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult." [9] Even though elder abuse is only recently gaining exposure before the public, and despite the fact that few instances of mistreatment have been publicized, people must realize that elder abuse is rampant. [10] The mistreatment of elders is a major social problem that is increasing with the growth of the senior population. [11] According to population projections by the U.S. Census Bureau, "[b]y 2030, the number of persons in the U.S. older than 65 is projected to be 69 million ... [and] about 2.5 million will be abused or neglected." [12] Alaska presents a unique perspective regarding its elderly population and requires diligent planning to protect against abuse due to the current magnitude of the senior population and the massive projected population changes.


Surprisingly, Alaska has one of the fastest growing elderly population compared to the rest of the nation. [13] Two main causes explain such a trend. First, Alaskan seniors outlive their counterparts in the rest of the country. The Alaska Commission on Aging found that the elderly in Alaska are "18 percent less likely to die from any cause during a given year than his/her U.S. counterpart." [14] Second, the maturation of the migrants from the 1970s and 1980s accounts for the increased growth. Though seniors are moving from Alaska to warmer climates at a rate almost equal to the number of seniors moving to Alaska, [15] the construction of the Trans-Alaska oil-pipeline and the accompanying spending that occurred during the 1970s and 1980s caused an increase in migration to Alaska, and now that generation is maturing. [16] The oil discovered in Prudhoe Bay in 1968, the largest oil field discovered in the U.S. and current producer of approximately more than 11 percent of all oil in the country, provided Alaska with a booming economy and jobs to spare, the effects of which still reverberate in Alaska today. [17] The migration of thousands of workers to Alaska during those decades is now playing a key role in the surge of Alaska's elderly population. [18] Many of those workers became permanent residents of Alaska, and the parents of those migrant workers followed their children to Alaska as well. [19]

Projections of changes in the senior population predict that the number of seniors in Alaska will likely reach 155,382 by the year 2035. [20] Further, the rise in the senior population is not limited to big cities such as Anchorage or Fairbanks. Each of the various regions in Alaska saw an increase in their elderly population by at least 20 percent. [21] Unfortunately, a rise in the reports of elder abuse supplements the increasing population of elderly in the Alaskan community. In 2010, the expected rate of elder abuse in the Alaska Native population was estimated to range from 5,600 to 8,400 cases. [22] Incidents of elder abuse reported to the Adult Protective Services ("APS") and the Long Term Care Ombudsman Office ("LTCO") were firmly rising while the APS and LTCO confirmed increases of 13.5% and 24%, respectively. [23] The mounting reports of abuse are cause for concern. Alaska must no longer turn a blind eye to the problem of elder abuse and must undertake approaches to prevent instances of abuse from occurring.


Generally, elder abuse is defined as any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to an older person, including physical or emotional abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, and abandonment. [24] There are three different types of abuse: (1) physical abuse, defined as "the use of physical force that may result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment;" (2) emotional abuse, defined as "the infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts;" and (3) sexual abuse, defined as "non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an elderly ... person." [25] Financial exploitation is the mishandling of an elderly person's financial resources for another's personal or pecuniary gains. [26] Neglect, considered the most frequent act of mistreatment on the elderly, [27] is the failure of a caretaker to provide care or carry out duties for an elder. [28] Self-neglect occurs when elders refuse or fail to provide themselves with basic necessities. [29] Abandonment occurs when a caretaker deserts the elderly person entrusted to her care. [30]

Victims of elder abuse are usually older adults who suffer from physical and mental frailty, [31] socially isolation, [32] or a living situation with someone who may be an abuser. [33] Offenders of elder abuse range from spouses, adult children, and grandchildren to friends, or service providers. [34]

Data on elder abuse is grim. The largest U.S. study on elder abuse, conducted in the late 1990s by the National Center on Elder Abuse, uncovered surprising and dismal findings: (1) abusers are family members or caretakers approximately 90 percent of the time; (2) female elders are more likely to be abused than male elders; (3) the elderly aged eighty and above are the most abused and neglected; (4) five out of six cases of abuse go unreported; [35] (5) approximately 5 million elders fall victim to abuse yearly. [36]

A. Elder Abuse in Alaska

In Alaska, the APS handles reports of mistreatment. [37] In 2010, the APS, comprised of nineteen staff members working in three offices located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, [38] investigated 2,763 reports of abuse to elderly adults out of 3,119 intakes. [39] The most common type of abuse reported was self-neglect with 905 reports, followed by financial exploitation with 543 reports. [40] Correspondingly, self-neglect and financial exploitation were the most common substantiated reports of abuse at 49.9 percent and 18.7 percent respectively. [41] The average age of an abused elder was seventy-five years. [42] Between the years...

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