We know that the likelihood of Rancho Bernardo patients who visit emergency rooms receiving elder abuse diagnoses is small, based on a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, among others. However, are there other locations in which physicians could be trained to identify sign and symptoms of nursing home abuse and neglect? According to an article in Psych Central, a recent study suggests that radiologists could be an important source of detection for abuse among elderly patients. Could more training for radiologists mean earlier treatment for injuries sustained as a result of nursing home abuse in San Diego County?
Why Should We Train Radiologists to Detect Signs of Elder Abuse and Neglect?
Are radiologists in a better position to identify signs of nursing home abuse than other types of medical doctors? In some ways, the answer might be yes. To better understand why training for radiologists in elder abuse could be an effective detection measure, it is important to understand what a radiologist does. As a fact sheet from the American College of Radiology explains, radiologists are doctors “who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases and injuries using medical imaging techniques, such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography (PET), and ultrasound.”
In other words, a radiologist is the type of doctor you might visit if you have a disease or an injury that needs to be diagnosed. When seniors in Southern California sustain injuries as a result of nursing home abuse or neglect, they may see a radiologist. Even if a doctor in an emergency department does not properly diagnose the injury as likely stemming from abuse or neglect, a radiologist with proper training might be able to do so.
Expanding Radiologists’ Focus to Include Physical Elder Mistreatment
As the article in Psych Central explains, for quite some time radiologists have been “highly trained to detect cases of potential child abuse” given the nature of their medicine, yet “very few have received either formal or informal instruction in detecting elder abuse.” By training radiologists to spot potential indications of nursing home abuse, seniors could be able to obtain treatment sooner, and facilities could be investigated if abuse is suspected (thereby preventing additional instances of nursing home abuse). This is the subject of a new study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology, which received support from the National Institute on Aging.
Why would radiologists need specialized training to detect elder abuse if they are already well-trained in identifying potential indications of child abuse? In short, the bodies of older adults are different, and their injury patterns are different. In particular, since seniors often suffer accidental injuries that are not the result of abuse or neglect, it can be difficult to tell the difference. Moreover, seniors are in extremely varied states of health. As the researchers indicate, “one 81-year-old may be running marathons while another is bed-bound in a nursing home.” As such, age cannot indicate health patterns.
At the same time, however, the authors of the study emphasizes that radiologists are ideally positioned to detect signs of abuse in elderly patients. According to Dr. Kieran Murphy, one of the study’s authors who is a radiology professor at the University of Toronto, “geriatric patients, particularly those with acute injuries, commonly undergo radiographic imaging as part of their medical evaluation, so radiologists may be well-positioned to raise suspicion of mistreatment.” The study found that only about 10% of the radiologists surveyed had undergone formal or informal training in detecting physical elder abuse, but all “expressed a desire for additional training in the area.”
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(image courtesy of S. Ciardullo)