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All Too Often, ER Staffers Miss Signs of Elder Abuse

Bigstock-Doctor-with-female-patient-21258332With so many seniors seen at the ER, it would seem to be a perfect opportunity to watch for elder abuse.

A review of national data by researchers finds that only 1 in 7,700 visits to the ER by seniors results in a formal diagnosis of elder abuse, despite the fact that 10% of American seniors are abused, according to “Elder Abuse Often Missed in ER,” from The Billings (MT) Gazette.

These findings show that the great majority of elder abuse victims pass through the emergency department without the problem being identified, says the study’s senior author Dr. Timothy Platts-Mills, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine.

Emergency physicians try to make sure that all serious and life-threatening conditions are identified and addressed for each patient who comes to the ER. However, for elder abuse, ERs across the country are failing to make the grade.

The study, published recently in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, notes that victims of elder abuse typically don't receive routine care from a primary care doctor, often depending solely on the ER. Each year in the U.S., seniors make more than 23 million ER visits. This means that these departments can play a vital role in identifying elder abuse and taking action to ensure the safety of these patients and fulfill their unmet health care needs.

The problem is complex and challenging. Medical professionals in the ER are trained to deal with emergencies and the strain of providing routine medical care can mean that there is less time available for each patient. Seniors who are physically frail or mentally ill may not be able to communicate, whether or not they are being abused or neglected. As a population prone to injuries, especially from falls, it may be hard for an untrained person to tell if the senior has been abused or simply fell.

Regardless of the challenges this may present to medical professionals, seniors deserve to receive protective and proper care, and that includes having someone in the ER take the time to evaluate them for abuse and facilitate protection, if it is needed.

Reference: Billings (MT) Gazette (November 25, 2016) “Elder Abuse Often Missed in ER”

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