Elder Abuse: A Call to Action

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Abstract

An estimated 2 million people a year are victims of elder abuse, which ranges from neglect and mistreatment to physical abuse. By the year 2020, a full 22% of the population will be aged 65 or older. This demographic explosion demands that we identify and protect those at risk. To investigate the incidence of elder abuse or neglect (EAN) and to determine clinician awareness of associated risk factors, we conducted a 1-year retrospective review of thermally injured patients aged 60 or older. Data included age, total body surface area burned, mechanism of injury, length of hospital stay, mortality, abuse or neglect risk factors, and referral to the appropriate social agency. We found that our elderly patients (n = 28) were poorly screened for EAN. While 64% to 96% of patients were screened for cognitive impairment, overall health, and financial resources, none were screened for risk factors of emotional isolation. None of the patient's caregivers, including any spouses, roommates, or guardians, were screened for risk factors of substance abuse, familial violence, dependency needs, or external stresses. With the use of available data, we were able to place 11 patients on the following levels of abuse or neglect: 1) low risk for abuse; 2) self-neglect; 3) neglect; and 4) abuse. By this scale, 7 patients (64%) were victims of self-neglect, 3 patients (27%) were victims of neglect, and 1 patient (9%) was a victim of abuse. Adult Protective Services intervened in 2 cases. Recognizing that all cases of EAN should be preventable, we cannot accept the socioeconomic impact of this entity. The 11 patients identified as victims of neglect, self-neglect, or abuse accounted for 135 hospital days and 8 fatalities. Before we can address EAN, health care personnel must be made aware of the problem and routine screening for risk factors must be implemented. The true incidence of EAN is likely underestimated because health care providers have difficulty recognizing its features. A standard assessment tool to screen for neglect or abuse should be used for each older adult admission. (J Burn Care Rehabil 1998;19:522–27)

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