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Elder abuse screening tools: a systematic review

Louise McCarthy (Department of Research and Development, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Bury St Edmunds, UK)
Susan Campbell (School of Health Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK)
Bridget Penhale (School of Health Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK)

The Journal of Adult Protection

ISSN: 1466-8203

Article publication date: 11 December 2017




Elder abuse results in high rates of morbidity and mortality. It has longstanding physical and psychological effects and is difficult to detect. Due to fear or embarrassment, victims may make attempts to hide it rather than to disclose and professionals are often reluctant to report it as they may worry about worsening a situation. If detected early enough, serious harm can be prevented and lives saved. Screening and screening tools can assist health and social care practitioners to detect abuse. This review of screening tools was undertaken as part of an MSc in clinical research, funded by the National Institute for Health Research; the purpose of this paper is to report on the review and its findings.


This was a systematic review with eligibility inclusion and exclusion criteria decided in advance. Keywords and their synonyms were combined and then used to search health and social care databases. Data items were collected from the included studies. The preferred reporting item for systematic reviews and meta-analysis was followed for the reporting of the results. A narrative synthesis approach was applied to the analysis.


A total of 34 full text studies were downloaded, read and analysed. In all, 11 met the inclusion criteria and were included in the final analysis. Of these, three studies reported sensitivity and specificity, with the remainder reporting validity and reliability testing. In total, 12 tools of varying length and quality were found. The length and characteristics of tools affects the efficacy of their use. The clinical environment will determine choice of screening tool to be used. Screening tools should be used within an overall system of detection and management of abuse.

Research limitations/implications

The synthesis of results was challenging due to the lack of homogeneity between the included studies. The variations in tool characteristics and qualities added to this challenge. A further limitation was the lack of a gold standard tool in elder abuse.


This systematic review highlights a lack of robust evidence in the development and validation of screening tools to detect elder abuse. Though there is an increasing awareness and knowledge about elder abuse, its detection remains problematic and the lack of research in this area is worth emphasising. Specific tools, centred on the clinical setting in which they are used, are recommended.



McCarthy, L., Campbell, S. and Penhale, B. (2017), "Elder abuse screening tools: a systematic review", The Journal of Adult Protection, Vol. 19 No. 6, pp. 368-379.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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