A lack of reliable tools to screen for elder abuse should be a “clear wake-up call” for healthcare professionals, policymakers, funding agencies and researchers concerned about the abuse of vulnerable older adults, according to an editorial published Tuesday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The authors were responding to a statement issued Tuesday by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that it “found no evidence about whether screening can successfully identify elderly or vulnerable adults who are being abused,” nor did it find evidence that screening can prevent elder abuse.
“Although we hope screening will help people who are being hurt get help, some worry that screening can put people at greater risk and actually result in harm. It is important to learn how to screen both effectively and safely,” the USPSTF said. “More research is needed in all of these areas.”
Research has shown that physical, sexual, psychological, neglectful and financial abuse of adults aged 60 or more years is occurring, the JAMA Internal Medicine authors wrote. The USPSTF, however, found only one “fair quality” study assessing the accuracy of a elder abuse screening tool, they noted.
“Although there is important work on elder abuse detection being done in emergency department and other settings, the field should borrow models from the [intimate partner violence] and child abuse domains to design high-quality, methodologically rigorous studies,” they wrote.
A separate editorial in JAMA noted that “[p]rograms with the greatest promise include use of multidisciplinary teams for coordination of care; helplines and emergency shelter for potential targets of abuse; independent financial management for elderly persons at risk of exploitation; and caregiver support interventions.”