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Screening for elder abuse in the Veterans Health Administration: Varied approaches across a national health system

Makaroun LK, Halaszynski JJ, Smith KA, Drake R, Amelio-Hering V, Atchison K, Dichter ME, Rosland AM, Thorpe CT, Rosen T
Journal of General Internal Medicine

Background: Elder abuse (EA) is common and has devastating health consequences yet is rarely detected by healthcare professionals. While EA screening tools exist, little is known about if and how these tools are implemented in real-world clinical settings. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has experience screening for, and resources to respond to, other forms of interpersonal violence and may provide valuable insights into approaches for EA screening. Objective: Describe EA screening practices across a national integrated healthcare system serving a large population of older adults at risk for EA. Design: Survey of all 139 VHA medical centers from January to August 2021. Participants: Surveys were completed by the Social Work Chief, or delegate, at each site. Main Measures: The survey assessed the presence and characteristics of EA-specific screening practices as well as general abuse/neglect screening conducted with patients of all ages, including older adults. Follow-up emails were sent to sites that reported screening requesting additional details not included in the initial survey. Key Results: Overall, 130 sites (94%) responded. Among respondents, 5 (4%) reported screening older adults for EA using a previously published tool, while 6 (5%) reported screening for EA with an unstudied or locally developed tool. Forty-eight percent reported screening patients of all ages for general abuse/neglect using unstudied questions/tools, and 44% reported no EA screening at their site. Characteristics of screening programs (e.g., frequency, clinical setting, provider type) varied widely between sites, as did respondents’ understanding of the definition of screening. Conclusions: High variability in screening practices for abuse/neglect and lack of EA-specific screening in a system that has successfully deployed other standardized screening approaches present an important opportunity to standardize and improve EA detection practices. Lessons learned in VHA could help advance the evidence base for EA screening more broadly to increase overall detection rates for EA nationally.

Makaroun LK, Halaszynski JJ, Smith KA, et al. Screening for elder abuse in the veterans health administration: varied approaches across a national health system. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2024. Epub ahead of print. DOI:10.1007/s11606-023-08560-2. PMID: 38191973

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Publication year
Resource type
Peer Reviewed Research
Social Needs/ SDH
Screening research
Social Determinant of Health
Study design
Other Study Design