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What role do health and medical professionals play in elder abuse prevention?

Health and medical providers are often the first to observe abuse and neglect. Their observations are often crucial in substantiating that abuse has occurred. The trust and respect that patients often have for their health care providers places these professionals in a key position to help. Specifically, they can:

  • Identify the somatic signs and symptoms of abuse
  • Evaluate the plausibility of explanations given for common injuries and conditions
  • Provide expert testimony
  • Assess cognitive status and health factors that affect it
  • Treat injuries or health problems that result from abuse
  • Perform abuse screenings

How can health and medical professions get involved?

  • Participate on multidisciplinary teams
  • Encourage clinics, hospitals, health maintenance organizations, or other medical providers to develop or adopt protocols for screening and responding to abuse
  • Encourage medical associations to get involved
  • Learn more about elder abuse

What resources are available to help?

Diagnostic Treatment and Guidelines on Elder Abuse and Neglect. Sara C. Aravanis; Ronald D. Adelman, MD; Risa Breckman, CSW; Terry T. Fulmer, PhD, RN; Elma Holder, MPH; Mark Lachs, MD; James D. O'Brien, MD; and Arthur B. Sanders, MD. American Medical Association (1992). This publication sensitizes clinicians to the fact that elder abuse and neglect occur commonly and that the problem is likely to be encountered in medical practice; presents what is known about the epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and history of elder mistreatment; describes barriers to the proper identification and management of elder mistreatment; outlines an approach that physicians can use to facilitate recognition of elder abuse and neglect in a variety of clinical settings; identifies strategies for the management and prevention of elder mistreatment; and discusses relevant ethical and medicolegal issues surrounding the detection and reporting of elder abuse and neglect. For more information, contact, Mary Haynes at the American Medical Association at (312) 464-5563.

Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Family Violence: A Guide for Health Care Professionals, produced by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, provides general information about elder abuse, a flow chart to respond to suspected abuse, and specific tips on what health care providers can do. It lists common signs and symptoms, answers commonly asked questions, and identifies interventions. For more information on how to order this publication, click here.

Baumhover, L.A. & Beall, S.C. (Eds.). (1996). Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation of Older Persons: Strategies for Assessment and Intervention. Baltimore, MD: Health Professions Press.

Lachs, M.S., et al.(1997). Risk factors for reported elder abuse and neglect: A nine-year observational cohort study. Gerontologist, 37(4), 469-74.

Lachs M.S., et al.(1998). The mortality of elder mistreatment. Journal of the American Medical Association, 280, 428-432.

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