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Recognizing signs of elder abuse through a forensic lens

Elder abuse in nursing homes can take many forms. While some signs of elder abuse such as physical injuries may be obvious, others may be harder to detect. Some elderly patients may be suffering verbal abuse or financial exploitation, which are harder to recognize.

Advocates for elder safety have long been looking for new ways to both identify and prevent nursing home neglect. A recent clinical study encourages health care professionals to adopt a “forensic lens” approach “inspired by law enforcement to better identify and address cases of elder abuse.” The technique can help first responders, doctors and others not trained in law enforcement to determine whether neglect could have occurred.

Researchers from the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology examined two cases of suspected elder abuse in caregiving situations. On the surface, both cases appeared to be similar. However, it was only after viewing them through a forensic lens methodology that they could decide whether mistreatment had actually taken place.

“The ‘forensic lens’ is intended to help investigators evaluate the entire clinical, social and legal scenario when determining the cause of elder mistreatment,” commented Marti DeLiema, the study’s lead author. “Physicians and other health care providers can be trained for what to look for; just as a detective looks for clues in a crime scene, physicians can look for clues in a patient’s body and behavior.”

The two cases used in-home observations, detailed documentation of the patients’ conditions and non-accusatory caregiver interviews to determine whether intentional elder neglect had taken place. DeLiema admitted that careful investigation is likely to be challenging for busy health care professionals who are pressed for time. However, a growing number of hospitals are adopting policies to improve patient documentation which can serve as key evidence in elder abuse cases.

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Experts warn of skyrocketing Alzheimer’s costs for caregivers

A recent PBS documentary about Alzheimer’s highlights the growing costs linked to caring for individuals diagnosed with the progressive disease. With millions of aging baby boomers at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, experts in the film warn that a financial “tidal wave” is looming over the country.

Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts” chronicles the struggles of people living with Alzheimer’s, as well as the emotional and financial impact of the chronic disease on their loved ones. Alzheimer’s affects not only the person diagnosed with it, but also the individuals tasked with caring for them.

The one-hour documentary shares the stories of two caregivers who look after their mothers, both of whom have Alzheimer’s. It weaves together personal stories with expert commentary from doctors and researchers against the backdrop of a larger sense of urgency.

While more than five million Americans currently have the disease, that number is projected to increase 55 percent by 2030. Because caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can cost tens of thousands of dollars, some experts predict the disease will soon overwhelm the health care system and lead to the collapse of Medicaid and Medicare.

In order to lessen the impact of the impending crisis, they are calling for an increase in government funding for Alzheimer’s research. Investing in studying the disease will allow researchers to find new ways of treating and preventing it.

In light of such predictions, preparing for the future becomes even more important. The attorneys at Gilfix and La Poll can guide families through the process of planning for long-term care while ensuring finances are protected.

Attorneys Michael Gilfix and Mark R. Gilfix are authors of “Facing the Reality of Long-Term Care.” This timely and practical book can be purchased at

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