Public Health and Primary CareORIGINAL ARTICLE

Primary Care Physicians and Elder Abuse: Current Attitudes and Practices

Deborah B. Wagenaar, DO, MS; Rachel Rosenbaum, DO, MS, RD; Connie Page, PhD; and Sandra Herman, PhD
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: October 14, 2009

Accepted: July 2, 2010

Published: December 1, 2010

J Osteopath Med; 110(12): 703-711

Context: While estimates suggest that between 1.4% and 5.4% of older adults experience abuse, only 1 of 14 cases of elder abuse or neglect is ever reported to authorities. It is critical for clinicians to be aware of elder abuse in order to improve primary care.

Objectives: To understand Michigan primary care physicians’ knowledge of and reporting practices for elder abuse, including the type of elder abuse education they received, the nature of their clinical practice, and the barriers that prevent them from reporting elder abuse.

Methods: A 17-item survey was mailed to 855 primary care physicians in Michigan in 2 waves between October 2007 and December 2007.

Results: Of the 855 surveys mailed, 222 were returned for a response rate of 26%. The majority of physicians (131 [67%] of 197 physicians) believed that their training about elder abuse was not very adequate or not adequate at all. Physicians with fewer than 10 hours of training were more likely to rate their training as not adequate when compared to those who had more than 10 hours of clinical training (χ2=64.340, P<.001). Whether abuse was reported was highly correlated with whether it was suspected (χ2=26.195, P<.001). Those physicians who reported receiving formal training on the topic of elder abuse in residency programs and those who reported participating in CME activities while in practice were less likely to identify not recognizing abuse at time of patient visits as a barrier to reporting.

Conclusions: Recognizing the subtle signs of elder abuse continues to be a barrier for physicians who treat older adult patients. However, education may improve primary care physicians’ ability to detect and recognize elder abuse.

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