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With right training, radiologists can play vital role in detecting elder abuse

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | December 22, 2016
CT X-Ray
New study points to a lack of research
examining injury patterns among the elderly
Radiologists are in the position to spot signs of elder abuse, but they aren’t trained in detecting it, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology.

"Geriatric patients, particularly those with acute injuries, commonly undergo radiographic imaging as part of their medical evaluation, so radiologists may be well-positioned to raise suspicion for mistreatment,” Kieran Murphy, study coauthor and radiology professor at the University of Toronto, said in a statement.

The researchers reported that up to 10 percent of older adults in the U.S. are mistreated every year and evidence suggests that these individuals are at a significantly higher risk of mortality and morbidity. Radiologists play an important role in detecting child abuse, and the researchers believe they can play a similar role with regard to elder abuse.

The study included interviews with 19 diagnostic radiologists and only two reported formal or informal training in elder abuse detection. All of the radiologists believed that they had missed cases of elder abuse, but wanted more training on it.

It can often be a challenge for radiologists to spot this kind of abuse because there is very little research that examines injury patterns in elder abuse. Age-related osteopenia, the use of anticoagulant medications and frequent accidental injuries from falls also make it difficult.

The patient’s age is usually helpful when radiologists evaluate images for potential child abuse, but that’s not the case with elder abuse. One 81-year-old patient may be capable of running marathons while another might be sedentary in a nursing home.

The research team plans to carry out additional studies to define pathognomonic injury patterns and to explore ways to encourage radiologists to incorporate detection into their practice.

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