Elder abuse is a growing problem that impacts approximately one to two
million Americans aged 60 and older every year. The exact number of victims
is unclear because the abuse or neglect is often not reported.
According to a recent study, elder abuse may also go undetected by emergency
room staff. Researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel
Hill, University of California San Diego, and Weil Cornell Medicine found
that a formal diagnosis of elder abuse is made in just 1 of 7,700 ER visits
by seniors. Previous studies have estimated that 10 percent of seniors
have suffered some form of elder abuse.
“These findings indicate that the vast majority of victims of elder
abuse pass through the emergency department without the problem being
identified,” Timothy Platts-Mills, MD, assistant professor of emergency
medicine and co-director of the division of geriatric emergency medicine
at the UNC School of Medicine and senior author of the study,
said in a press statement.
Given the expected growth of the senior population, the researchers emphasize
that the ER represents a major missed opportunity to combat elder abuse.
“Emergency physicians strive to make sure that for each patient
who comes through the door, all serious and life-threatening conditions
are identified and addressed. For elder abuse, EDs across the country
are falling short,” Platts-Mills stated.
In most hospitals, doctors ask patients if they feel safe at home, but
ask no further questions. The researchers plan to improve the identification
of elder abuse by developing and validating a screening tool that can
be used in emergency rooms. The new tool will use several questions to
inquire about different aspects of elder abuse, including psychological
abuse and neglect. It will also include a physical exam for patients with
significant cognitive impairment.
As San Diego injury lawyers, we agree that the study’s results are
concerning, particularly because doctors are often in the best position
to identify elder abuse and help victims get the help they need. We are
hopeful that further research and advocacy will help improve patient safety.
If you or someone you love has fallen victim to elder abuse or nursing
home negligence, don’t hesitate to contact
a San Diego elder abuse attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for
a free consultation.