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Release: Oct. 11, 2000

UI receives CDC grant for nationwide study of elder abuse

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- An estimated two million cases of elder abuse and neglect occur in the United States each year, with many seniors falling victim to abuse by family members. However, elder abuse is a hidden and often misunderstood public health problem that lacks adequate research and effective interventions.

To help address the problem, University of Iowa researchers will use a two-year, $421,712 grant awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study how certain laws and regulations impact public health investigations of elder abuse in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The grant was effective Sept. 30.

The study will be led by Gerald Jogerst, M.D., UI associate professor of family medicine, who has published long-term studies on detecting and responding to elder abuse in Iowa. Data from the CDC-funded study will be used to assist policy makers in improving health laws designed to protect the nation's most vulnerable adults.

"Elder abuse is a growing problem that concerns many health care providers, including nurses, physicians and social workers," Jogerst said. "We need to better understand the different state structures that are in place to protect this growing elderly population."

A main goal of the investigation is to analyze the wording of elder abuse legislation, including the definitions or terms related to a "dependent/vulnerable" adult, elder mistreatment and elder abuse case substantiation.

"Definitions of a dependent adult vary from state to state," Jogerst said. "In addition, elderly people with cognitive problems can slip into dependency gradually. It can be difficult to say when they become dependent."

The researchers also will study differences between reported and substantiated cases of domestic elder abuse as well as characteristics of the investigators and the areas (districts) in which they work.

The research grant is sponsored by the CDC Division of Violence Prevention, directed by Rodney Hammond, Ph.D., and by the CDC Public Health Law Program, directed by Anthony D. Moulton, Ph.D. Both congratulated Jogerst on the high scientific quality of his proposal and for focusing on research that policy makers can eventually use to advance the health of seniors.

In addition to Jogerst, the research team includes other investigators from the UI Department of Family Medicine as well as the UI Center on Aging, the UI School of Social Work, the UI Office of Consultation and Research in Medical Education, and the UI Program in Biomedical Ethics and Medical Humanities in the College of Medicine.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.