Published on:

Study: U.S. Elder Abuse is Under-Identified, Under-Reported

Diagnoses of elder abuse in hospital emergency rooms is often unreported and not identified in hospital emergency rooms, according to a new study conducted by by a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, the University of California San Diego and Weil Cornell Medicine.

Previous research has established that 1 in 10 older adults suffer some form of elder abuse. That’s going to mean tens of thousands more cases of elder abuse treated at hospital emergency rooms as the population continues to age. As it now stands, more than 23 million adults are treated in hospital emergency rooms every year.

Our nursing home abuse lawyers in Orlando strongly believe that this is a major misstep at a critical juncture for vulnerable patients. By the time patients are treated in the emergency room, the abuse has reached a turning point, and it becomes imperative that nurses, doctors and other health care professionals be trained about what nursing home abuse is Рand how to recognize it. 

Of course, emergency doctors do want to make sure that every serious and potentially life-threatening condition is identified and then addressed. But too often when it comes to elder abuse, the researchers opined, this isn’t happening. This is especially troubling because a significant number of nursing home patients aren’t receiving regular care from a primary care physician. That means they are depending on emergency room doctors to identify problems that they may not even themselves be able to voice or articulate.

As it stands right now, emergency room doctors and staffers are trained to ask just a single question about a patient’s safety at home. Additional training is important, but updated procedures are necessary too, the study authors say. The researchers are¬†working on a new screening tool that would help emergency department employees root out elder abuse – and help address it so that the victim isn’t returned to a potential deadly situation.

The new tool would delve more deeply into a patient’s background, and would use a number of different questions to help uncover different aspects of elder abuse, including neglect and psychological abuse. It would also allow for a modified physical exam to ensure those with significant cognitive defects weren’t falling through the cracks in this process – as so often is sadly the case.

Researchers say emergency room physicians make a diagnosis of elder abuse in just 1 in 7,700 visits of elder patients. Given that at least 10 percent of persons over the age of 65 are victims of elder abuse, it means that emergency room employees are too often missing key signs.

And of course, it’s not just doctors. Family members and loved ones too may overlook the red flags because they are unfortunately not always obvious. Some examples of elder abuse may include:

  • Bruises and lacerations with no explanation from the nursing home;
  • Signs of poor hygiene (dirt on clothing, teeth not brushed, dirty hair, body odor, etc.);
  • Skin infections or bed sores;
  • Indications of dehydration or malnutrition;
  • Over-medication (using medication as a form of chemical restraints).

If you suspect your loved one has been victimized by nursing home abuse, we can help. It’s worth noting too that doctors are mandated reporters of abuse, which means if they suspect a person is being abused, they must report it to the proper authorities. Failure to properly diagnose conditions stemming from abuse when it’s reasonably apparent could be grounds to assert liability against the doctor.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Elder abuse is under-identified in the US, says study, Staff Report,

More Blog Entries:

DHHS: No More Nursing Home Arbitration Agreements, Oct. 29, 2016, Orlando Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

Contact Information