A more effective way to identify elder abuse


Elder abuse is a largely hidden problem, but one that impacts a growing number of America’s aging population. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 500,000 older adults are abused or neglected in the U.S. each year.

To address this growing public health concern, researcher Brad Cannell, PhD, MPH, has been chosen by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to develop an elder-abuse screening tool for emergency medical personnel responding to 911 calls.

Brad Cannell, PhD, MPH

NIJ is providing Dr. Cannell a $370,000 grant for the project, which will provide EMTs with an objective way to identify warning signs of abuse or neglect that require referral to Adult Protective Services.

“There is a certain amount of anxiety that comes with making a determination to report possible elder abuse, as well as a fear of incorrectly reporting abuse,” said Dr. Cannell, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at UNTHSC’s School of Public Health.

“Most cases right now are considered subjectively, with the burden of reporting on the medical responders. The hope is that this tool will make it easier for first responders to report their suspicions to those who are in a position to offer assistance to older adults,” he said.

DETECT (Detection of Elder Abuse Through Emergency Care Technicians) is being developed for MedStar Mobile Healthcare, Fort Worth’s primary 911 responder. Eventually, the plan is to make it available for other responders nationwide, including police and firefighters.

Dr. Cannell is collaborating on this project with the Elder Abuse Task Force of the Fort Worth Safe Communities Coalition, MedStar, Texas Adult Protective Services and Dr. Jenn Reingle of the University of Texas School of Public Health.

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