Elder abuse is pervasive and requires urgent response

10/01/04

ITHACA, N.Y. -- A substantial number of older persons -- from 2 to 10 percent of the elderly population -- are physically or mentally abused, and mistreated seniors are three times more likely to die within three years than those who are not abused, report two Cornell University gerontologists in this week's issue of the medical journal The Lancet.

Reviewing more than 50 articles, Karl Pillemer, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell, has collaborated with Dr. Mark S. Lachs, co-chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, on a detailed review in The Lancet (Vol. 364, Oct. 2: pp. 1192-1263) on the risk factors, screening, clinical manifestations, diagnosis and treatment of elder abuse.

"This vastly unrecognized and undertreated problem compromises the quality of life for millions of older people worldwide," says Pillemer. "A busy physician, who might see 20 to 40 elderly patients a day, might encounter a case of possible elder abuse every day, but because of a lack of time, resources and a general lack of recognition of the problem, many cases go undetected and untreated, putting our elderly at heightened risk of physical and mental harm, and even death."

The Cornell gerontologists call for a multidisciplinary team approach to assess the situation and develop solutions that are tailored to the individual victim's needs and problems. Lachs and Pillemer assert that elder abuse directly affects quality of life, and helping patients resolve an abusive situation is one of the most gratifying experiences for physicians and other health-care professionals.

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