Elder abuse screening tool is on HHS wish list

Share this content:
Kathy Greenlee speaks during the April 27 meeting of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council.
Kathy Greenlee speaks during the April 27 meeting of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council.

High on Kathy Greenlee's wish list is a screening tool that could be used by aging services providers, physicians, pharmacists, bank employees and others to assess someone's risk for elder abuse.

Greenlee, the assistant secretary for aging and administrator of the Administration for Community Living in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, shared the desire as part of her closing remarks during an April 27 meeting of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council. The entity was established by the Elder Justice Act of 2009, part of the Affordable Care Act, to coordinate activities related to elder abuse, neglect and exploitation across the federal government.

Her comment was more than just an idle thought, however. It was advice to the new administration that will come into office in Washington in 2017. Assessment is one of three areas related to elder justice that need additional attention from federal officials and advocates, she said.

“Some of the data instruments or the assessment tools that we have that are validated are way too long for someone to use in a doctor's office,” Greenlee said. “You need the Mini-Mental version of an elder abuse screen. Three quick questions or something,” she added, referencing the questionnaire by which clinicians and researchers measure cognitive impairment.

The two other areas of needed focus, Greenlee said, involve data and research on the aging brain, including brains not affected by dementia.

“There's data out there, and we have not yet harnessed our ability to pull together the data sets in the federal government to start to get a better handle on what's happening and how to use the data,” she said.

Regarding research, Greenlee said the government has made “great progress” on research to prevent and respond to incidents of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation, but more work is needed. “Not everyone who is a victim is someone who has dementia,” she said. “I think all older people are just targeted by criminals to scam them or steal from them.”

Much of the federal government's work related to elder justice over the past five years was spurred by a March 2011 report, “Stronger federal leadership could enhance national response to elder abuse,” issued by the Government Accountability Office, Greenlee said.

The report, she noted, said that “federal elder justice activities have been scattered across agencies and as a whole have had a limited impact on the elder justice field, a clear indicator that federal leadership in this area has been lacking.”

“Well, not anymore,” Greenlee said. A “federal home” for adult protective services has been set up, she noted, as well as a national database “so we can start to get a handle on what is happening from the perspective of the states and these 50 state systems.”

Background materials and executive summaries of remarks made by those speaking at the meeting — including representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Aging, the Department of Justice, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Social Security Administration and others — are available online.

Sign up for newsletters

In Focus

Feb. 21

Handmade holiday

Rochester, NY

Residents of St. John's recently were surprised with handmade Valentine's Day cards and gifts from local elementary school students.