MSU Sociology Professor Zhenmei Zhang shares her expertise on elder abuse with WalletHub

December 9, 2021 - Kayla McKaig

With the population of Americans aged 65 and older expected to nearly double in the next 30 years, WalletHub recently consulted a panel of experts, including MSU Professor in the Department of Sociology, Zhenmei Zhang, Ph.D., to weigh in on the growing concern of elder abuse.

It is estimated that elder abuse affects as much as 10% of the 60+ population. Since many cases go unreported, the figures of prevalence could be even higher. Often this segment of the population has disabilities, financial, or living conditions that cause them to rely on others for care, making them particularly vulnerable. The problem is growing, and it is time for states to take action with resources and protection. So how does Michigan rank? Although Michigan scores among the best (#4) in prevalence, the amount of resources and protections available are low, for an overall score of 19, compared to all U.S. states.

Dr. Zhang and a team of panelists developed the study’s methodology for determining which states have the best protection against elder abuse. “We evaluated these dimensions [Prevalence, Resources, and Protection] using 16 relevant metrics, with their corresponding weights. Each metric was scored on a 100-point scale, with 100 representing the ‘best protection against elder abuse’,” she said. In other words, Dr. Zhang and the other panelists determined that some factors should be weighted more heavily than others. For example, the Share of Elder-Abuse, Gross-Neglect and Exploitation Complaints garnered triple weight on their point scale system from other factors such as Elder Fraud and Elder Fraud Loss Amount.  From there, they were able to rank-order the states using this weighted average across all metrics.

She states that the most common types of elder abuse are financial abuse, emotional abuse, and physical abuse. Her biggest tips for protecting elderly family members from being abused financially are frequent and honest communication as well as designating a power of attorney or a senior money management program to manage their financial affairs.

Dr. Zhang received her PhD degree in Sociology and Demography from Pennsylvania State University in 2003, and joined the Michigan State University faculty in 2006. Her areas of expertise include aging and the life course, family and health, racial/ethnic disparities in health, and elder abuse and neglect. In addition to her contribution on WalletHub, Dr. Zhang has numerous publications. Her most recent publications include, A National Longitudinal Study of Marital Quality and Cognitive Decline Among Older Men and Women (2021), Marital Loss and Risk of Dementia: Do Race and Gender Matter? (2021), and Childlessness and Social Support in Old Age in China (2021).

To view this study on WalletHub, visit the link below.