Nursing Home Abuse and Elder Abuse Screening Programs Should be Routine In HospitalsSep 5, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP
Nursing home abuse and elder abuse are among some of the most-under reported crimes, but a new study offers hope that more cases could be uncovered. While most victims of elder abuse won’t answer direct questions about this crime, health care professionals and social workers who have received training in this area can become adept at screening older patients for the signs of abuse whenever they are admitted to the hospital. But for such a screening system to work, those who work with the elderly must become familiar with both the signs of elder abuse, and the risk factors that make it likely.
In the United States, about 2500 cases of physical abuse by nursing home staff are being reported each year. The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates at least one in 20 nursing home patients has been the victim of abuse. And sadly, an elderly person’s home is not much safer, with three out of five cases of elder abuse occurring in the senior’s own home at the hands of family members. Because this type of abuse can easily be covered up, the true number is not really known. For this reason, an effective method of screening for nursing home abuse and elder abuse is urgently needed.
Israeli researchers studied 730 men and women age 70 and over who had been admitted to two major Israeli medical centers. They found that only 6-percent would report abuse if asked about the crime directly. However, far more had signs that indicated they were victims of this abuse. The researchers found that when nurses and social workers assessed patients who were admitted to the hospital, they found that 21-percent exhibited signs of abuse, including unexplained bruises and burns, angry behavior, and poor hygiene or dehydration. An assessment of patients’ risk for abuse found that 21-percent exhibited the risk factors most often associated with elder abuse. Those risk factors include emotional instability and poor family relationships.
The authors of the study, which appeared in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, wrote that their findings indicate that routine screening of elderly patients should be standard practice whenever they are admitted to the hospital. Though the Israeli study looked at elderly patients who were being cared for by family members, such screening could be particularly useful with nursing home residents, who are also subject to high rates of abuse. Unfortunately, these residents can’t always count on other healthcare workers in their nursing home to help. According to the National Center’s study, 57-percent of nurses’ aides working in long-term care facilities admitted to having witnessed, and even participating in, acts of abuse.
Because many elderly are often too frightened or confused to report elder or nursing home abuse, hospital personnel are often the only ones in a position to discover this hideous crime. The institution of routine elder and nursing home abuse screening programs at hospitals could potentially improve the lives of thousands of senior citizens.