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Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2006 Sep;130(9):1290-6.

Elder maltreatment: a review.

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  • 1Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, ForensicSection, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC 29423, USA.



Elder maltreatment is not a new entity but is one that is recently recognized as a widespread and growing social problem. Unfortunately, few physicians are trained to recognize the different forms of elder maltreatment including physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. The elder, age 65 years or older, is also a unique individual with respect to pathophysiology. The natural changes of aging must be considered when assessing any physical or laboratory findings.


The practicing pathologist and resident/fellow in training must be familiar with the 6 forms of elder abuse, in particular the 3 forms that are seen in general and forensic pathology: physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Naturally occurring conditions must also be recognized so that these are not erroneously interpreted as trauma or neglect. Furthermore, the victims and perpetrators, scenarios and risk factors, common anatomic and clinical findings, the pathophysiology of aging, and possible imitators of abuse must be understood.


This review explores the current medical and psychological understanding of elder maltreatment. Current scientific literature including peer-reviewed journal publications and texts is cited.


As a prevalent form of domestic violence, we can only expect to see more cases of elder maltreatment as the number and percentage of elders in our population increase. The correct interpretation of physical and laboratory findings is needed to adequately classify these cases, certify the cause and manner of death, and prevent future incidents.

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