Physical abuse of the elderly is illegal. But proving physical elder abuse in a criminal trial or personal injury lawsuit faces obstacles because abuse with physical injury is difficult to recognize.  But recent research reveals identifying patterns that may distinguish between intentional harm and accidental injuries.

Detection difficulty

Elder abuse involving violence is hard to detect because seniors have thin skin and use blood thinners and other medications that can cause easy bruising. They often have osteopenia or osteoporosis that increase the risk of suffering broken bones.

Elder abuse is also seriously underrecognized and underreported. Seniors typically have little contact with anyone except health care providers. These practitioners, particularly emergency room physicians, have greater opportunities to recognize and report this abuse.

Research findings

Research, published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, reveal injury patterns. The findings are based upon medical and prosecution records from 78 successfully prosecuted elder abuse cases from 2001 to 2014.

Elder abuse victims were more likely to have bruising. Seventy-eight percent of these victims had bruising compared to 54 percent of seniors who had unintentional falls.

Sixty-seven percent of abuse victims were more likely to have injuries on their maxillofacial, dental and neck area. Only 28 percent of seniors who had an unintentional fall suffered these injuries.

Compared to seniors who had an unintentional fall, abuse victims were more likely to have maxillofacial, dental or neck injuries without upper and lower extremity injuries. Fifty percent of violence victims had these injuries compared to eight percent of seniors who unintentionally fell.

Seniors who were abused were more likely to have left cheek or zygoma injuries, 22 percent, compared to three percent of seniors who had an unintentional fall. These victims were also more likely to have neck area injuries, 15 percent compared to zero percent and ear injuries which were six percent compared to zero percent for unintentional falls.

According to the study’s lead author, abusers principally target the elderly victim’s head and face. Injuries to these areas without harm to other parts of the body is a sign of abuse.

Neck injuries are also suspicious. The neck typically protects the person’s face and shoulders in a fall.

In addition to serious trauma injuries, elder abuse victims can face other serious health consequences such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders.

An attorney can help seek compensation for this abuse.