High Hospitalization Rates Linked to Elder Abuse

A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine confirmed that abused and neglected elderly persons face much higher risks for hospitalization, and not necessarily for injuries suffered as a result of their mistreatment. According to Dr. Theresa Soriano, an associate professor of medicine in geriatrics and palliative care in the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, “It is understandable how a vulnerable older person experiencing abuse may fail to prioritize the prevention or care of their health conditions.”

Hospitalization rates especially tend to increase when elderly persons rely upon an abusive family member as a caregiver. They can miss medical appointments, adhere poorly to required diets and medication schedules, and they can experience increased stress and anxiety. As a result, all of these things can contribute to “poor control of any medical conditions and increased hospitalizations,” according to an article in Health magazine.

Details of the Study
The recent study analyzed information from more than 6,500 older adults who participated in the Chicago Health and Aging Project. Dr. XinQi Dong from Rush University Medical Center and Dr. Melissa Simon from Northwestern University Medical Center led the study.

They gathered reports from various social service agencies to identify 106 elder persons who were victims of abuse between 1993 and 2010. The researchers then reviewed hospitalization rates compiled by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and they found that “the annual rate of hospitalization was more than doubled for those who reported elder abuse versus those who did not.”

When drawing final conclusions, the researchers determined that all kinds of elder abuse can affect hospitalization rates—not just physical abuse and neglect. In fact, they concluded that “elderly people who suffered psychological abuse, financial exploitation, caregiver neglect, or two or more types of abuse were hospitalized more frequently than those without reported elder abuse.”

With hospitalization rates increasing for older adults, should we be asking if elder abuse is a growing problem in the U.S.?

Experts Suggest Elder Mistreatment is a Growing Problem
In addition to the medical experts who conducted the study for JAMA Internal Medicine, other experts in the field also worry that elder abuse leading to higher hospitalization rates is a problem that isn’t going away.

According to Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein, the director of geriatric education at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New York, about 10 percent of elderly persons in America are victims of abuse, and “the trend is increasing.” In fact, Wolf-Klein indicated that psychological abuse may be a primary culprit for hospitalization.

What can we do? The important thing is to spot elder abuse early and to report it to social services agencies. While this can be a challenge for many reasons, early reporting can help to reduce the rates of elder hospitalization. And Wolf-Klein suggests that some caregivers may be relieved to have assistance from social services agencies. “The ultimate goal for our society,” she explains, “is to enable these social services agencies to provide overwhelmed caregivers of older adults with the support they need on a daily basis, in order to successfully manage the complex demands of frail patients totally dependent on others.”

If you suspect that an elderly loved one has been a victim of elder abuse or neglect, contact an experienced attorney today to discuss your case.

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