Emergency Department Presentations for Injuries in Older Adults Independently Known to be Victims of Elder Abuse

J Emerg Med. 2016 Mar;50(3):518-26. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2015.10.037. Epub 2016 Jan 22.


Background: Elder abuse is under-recognized by emergency department (ED) providers, largely due to challenges distinguishing between abuse and accidental trauma.

Objective: To describe patterns and circumstances surrounding elder abuse-related and potentially abuse-related injuries in ED patients independently known to be physical elder abuse victims.

Methods: ED utilization of community-dwelling victims of physical elder abuse in New Haven, CT from 1981-1994 was analyzed previously. Cases were identified using Elderly Protective Services data matched to ED records. Sixty-six ED visits were judged to have high probability of being related to elder abuse and 244 were of indeterminate probability. We re-examined these visits to assess whether they occurred due to injury. We identified and analyzed in detail 31 injury-associated ED visits from 26 patients with high probability of being related to elder abuse and 108 visits from 57 patients with intermediate probability and accidental injury.

Results: Abuse-related injuries were most common on upper extremities (45% of visits) and lower extremities (32%), with injuries on head or neck noted in 13 visits (42%). Bruising was observed in 39% of visits, most commonly on upper extremities. Forty-two percent of purportedly accidental injuries had suspicious characteristics, with the most common suspicious circumstance being injury occurring more than 1 day prior to presentation, and the most common suspicious injury pattern being maxillofacial injuries.

Conclusion: Victims of physical elder abuse commonly have injuries on the upper extremities, head, and neck. Suspicious circumstances and injury patterns may be identified and are commonly present when victims of physical elder abuse present with purportedly accidental injuries.

Keywords: elder abuse; emergency medicine; injuries.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Connecticut / epidemiology
  • Contusions / epidemiology
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / epidemiology
  • Elder Abuse / diagnosis
  • Elder Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lower Extremity
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Time-to-Treatment
  • Upper Extremity
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology