The Forensic Lens: Bringing Elder Neglect Into Focus in the Emergency Department

Marguerite DeLiema, Diana C. Homeier, Deirdre Anglin, Danielle Li, Kathleen H. Wilber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


We present 2 case studies of older patients who were brought to the emergency department (ED) in severely debilitated states. Both presented with severe malnutrition, contractures, and decubitus ulcers, and were nonverbal, with histories of dementia and end-stage disease. Their primary caregivers, adult children, were uncooperative with Adult Protective Services and disregarded treatment recommendations. Although both elders had signs suspicious for neglect, a comprehensive review revealed many layers of complexity. We use these cases to illustrate an approach to the assessment of possible elder neglect in ED settings and how to intervene to ensure patient safety. We begin with a discussion of the differences between willful, unintentional, and unsubstantiated neglect by a caregiver and then describe when to suspect neglect by evaluating the elder, interviewing the caregiver and first responders, assessing the caregiver's ability to meet the elder's needs, and, if possible, obtaining medical history and information about the home care environment. These cases illustrate the importance of careful documentation in cases of suspected neglect to assist investigative agencies, reduce the risk of further harm, and improve patient outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-377
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Emergency Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding and support: By Annals policy, all authors are required to disclose any and all commercial, financial, and other relationships in any way related to the subject of this article as per ICMJE conflict of interest guidelines (see ). This work was partially funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging ( T32AG000037 ). Dr. Homeier is the director of the elder abuse forensic center where the cases in this study were presented. She was part of the investigative team that interviewed the caregivers and evaluated the victims. No financial compensation was provided for Dr. Homeier's authorship role.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American College of Emergency Physicians


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