Financial exploitation. Emotional abuse. Passive neglect. These are the biggest types of abuse to elders and adults with disabilities. There was a 22% increase in new cases of mistreatment in Illinois from 2013 to 2014 according to a recent Center for Prevention of Abuse report. Nearly 80% of abusers were victims’ family members.
As sobering as those numbers are, reports of abuse are only expected to grow as this segment of the population increases. The center is working with the local health care community to be on the front lines of defense against abuse.
An ongoing partnership between the University of Illinois College of Medicine (UICOMP), Center for Prevention of Abuse, and Jump aims to better train medical students to recognize and intervene when abuse may be happening.
This novel program was created due to a lack of standardized method by which elder abuse is covered in medical school curricula across the country. If health care providers can spot the warning signs early, there’s the potential to save peoples’ lives.
Spotting the Not So Obvious
Patients don’t always come in with obvious signs of trauma from abuse. Sometimes clinicians have to recognize other cues that patients are being mistreated.
If a patient is not regularly taking her medication, her caretaker could be stealing her money. If a patient is looking to his family member for approval before talking, that could be an indication of physical or emotional abuse taking place. Another clue may be that a patient missed a few appointments and lost some weight.
Third-year medical students at UICOMP are taught to pick up on these early warning signs of abuse. That education is reinforced using simulation at Jump.
The scenarios feature elderly patients played by the Center for Prevention of Abuse’s own staff, so they know how to play these patients perfectly.
With this interaction, medical students are learning to identify unspoken nuances like body language and pay attention to how patients are interacting with their caregivers. The simulations are designed to make an impression on learners, and for the education they’ve gained to carry over into their practice.
The most important thing they need to know is that we don’t expect clinicians to act as social service agencies. We just want them to know how and where to file a report if they suspect abuse.
As someone who oversees elder abuse cases throughout central Illinois, I recognize the need for this type of education. Clinicians are so well-trained to treat presenting issues in such a short amount of time that it’s easy to overlook subtle indicators of abuse. I’m confident the partnership between UICOMP, Center for Prevention of Abuse, and Jump is heightening the level of awareness needed for medical students to identify abuse and handle it appropriately.