Elder Abuse Often Not Discovered at Emergency Rooms: Study

Nearly all elder abuse cases are going unrecognized and unreported during emergency room visits, placing a large population of older adults at continuing risk, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published in last month’s issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers indicate that elder abuse is formally diagnosed in only 1 in 7,700 cases involving older adults in emergency department hospital visits.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of California San Diego, and Weil Cornell Medicine focused on emergency room data to estimate frequency of how often doctors make a formal diagnosis of elder abuse.

Did You Know?

Millions of Philips CPAP Machines Recalled

Philips DreamStation, CPAP and BiPAP machines sold in recent years may pose a risk of cancer, lung damage and other injuries.

Learn More

The study examined data from emergency room (ER) visits of adults 60 and older recorded in the 2012 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample or the 2011 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Overall, the study sample for 2012 included 6.7 million ER visits of older adults representing about 29 million visits. In total, researchers found elder abuse was diagnosed in an estimated 3,846 visits.

The research data indicate elder abuse is discovered in only 1 in 7,700 visits, while prior research has suggested that about 1 in 10 older adults are victims of elder abuse. The data indicates most cases are not recognized or not reported.

“The proportion of U.S. emergency department visits by older adults receiving a diagnosis of elder abuse is at least two orders of magnitude lower than the estimated prevalence in the population,” the study authors wrote. “Efforts to improve the identification of elder abuse in emergency departments may be warranted.”

The most common types of elder abuse diagnosed were neglect, which accounted for 33% of cases, and physical abuse, which accounted for 32% of cases. In general, women were more commonly abused and those abused had a higher likelihood of experiencing a contusion, urinary tract infection and sepsis.

Researchers said victims of elder abuse often do not receive routine care from primary care doctors and will often depend on ER care only when an emergency arises.

There are more than 23 million ER visits made each year by older adults. This means the majority of elder abuse cases going through the ER are unrecognized by the healthcare staff.

Experts say the emergency room is an important place to identify elder abuse and initiate necessary interventions to provide patient safety and focus on much needed care.

Signs of elder abuse can include, physical injuries, like broken bones, bruising, or cuts, anxiety, emotional distress, withdrawal, sudden changes in financial situations, bedsores, poor hygiene, and weight loss.

Older adults are often physically frail or have cognitive impairments, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, making them more vulnerable to injuries or making it more difficult to care for themselves.

It can be difficult for the hospital staff to determine if an injury, such as a bruise, is from a fall or from physical abuse. Similarly, poor hygiene can result from a patient asking to be left alone or from neglect.

Currently, the ER staff is required to ask only one question about the safety at home of an elderly patient. The research team hopes to develop a screening tool designed specifically to help ER workers identify elder abuse. The new tool will use several questions to ask about a patient’s wellbeing, including psychological abuse and neglect. The tool will also include a physical exam for patients with significant cognitive impairment.


"*" indicates required fields

Share Your Comments

I authorize the above comments be posted on this page*

Have Your Comments Reviewed by a Lawyer

Provide additional contact information if you want an attorney to review your comments and contact you about a potential case. This information will not be published.

NOTE: Providing information for review by an attorney does not form an attorney-client relationship.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

More Top Stories

Suboxone Settlements Failed to Compensate Users Left With Tooth Decay or Tooth loss
Suboxone Settlements Failed to Compensate Users Left With Tooth Decay or Tooth loss (Posted today)

Although Suboxone settlements have been paid to resolve antitrust violations, users who suffered damages due to tooth decay from Suboxone film must pursue individual product liability lawsuits

Bard 3DMax Hernia Mesh Lawsuit Set for Trial To Begin in April 2024
Bard 3DMax Hernia Mesh Lawsuit Set for Trial To Begin in April 2024 (Posted yesterday)

With thousands of Bard hernia mesh lawsuits pending in the federal court system, a fourth bellwether trial will be held in the spring, involving allegations that defects with Bard 3DMax caused painful and permanent injuries.