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J Elder Abuse Negl. 2009 Jul-Sep;21(3):211-38. doi: 10.1080/08946560902997421.

Professional decision making on elder abuse: systematic narrative review.

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  • 1South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, Social Services Training Department, The Clock Tower-Downshire Hospital, Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.


Social work and health care professionals internationally are recognizing the need to understand and respond to the abuse of older people. Policy and guidance have identified processes but definitions of key concepts remain problematic, and the literature suggests that practitioners and agencies have little insight or guidance for decision making. Nine bibliographic databases were searched for studies on professional decision making regarding abuse of older people. Relevant studies retrieved were appraised for quality using explicit criteria. The findings of the 19 articles meeting the inclusion criteria were synthesised using a structured narrative approach. Common themes identified were abuse factors, situational factors, and broader contextual factors. Abuse factors relating to risk levels and client vulnerability were central; age, gender, and health status were considered as key indicators of vulnerability. The opinion of adult protection workers about the potential effectiveness of their intervention was a factor in deciding about responding to alleged or suspected abuse. Professionals struggled with complex ethical dilemmas created by elder abuse, particularly when the victim did not want an investigation. Making objective judgements was difficult when faced with complex family and contextual factors. A structured approach to narrative synthesis of a diverse range of studies retrieved through an explicit search and inclusion process provided a useful summary of key issues for practice and identified gaps in the research literature.

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