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Physical Therapists' Knowledge of Physical Elder Abuse—Signs, Symptoms, Laws, and Facility Protocols

Saliga Sue PT MHS NCS; Adamowicz, Connie BS, SPT; Logue, Andrew MPT; Smith, Karen MPT
Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy: April 2004
Article: PDF Only


Background and Purpose:

It is estimated that only 1 in 5 cases of elder abuse is reported. Physical therapists (PTs) should recognize elder abuse and how to report it. The purpose of this study was to determine the knowledge that PTs possess in 3 areas of abuse management: recognition of signs/symptoms of physical abuse, awareness of state mandatory reporting laws, and knowledge of facility protocols for reporting abuse. An additional purpose was to determine the frequency PTs suspected elder abuse and the compliance to Michigan law, which requires the reporting of suspected abuse by the health care worker.


A survey was distributed to 400 randomly chosen licensed PTs who reside in one county in Michigan; 137 surveys were completed for a 36% return rate with 31% being usable. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and independent t-tests.


Facility training was a significant factor in the knowledge of the mandatory reporting law. Facility training showed a trend towards improving the knowledge level of the signs and symptoms of abuse. Twenty five percent of respondents had suspected abuse of one of their patients, however, over half failed to report their suspicions. Conclusions: This study identified a lack of knowledge in recognition and management of elder abuse including Michigan's mandatory reporting law. Although required by law, all therapists that suspected abuse did not report their suspicions to proper legal authorities. Continued professional education and research in this area is needed.

Address correspondence to: Sue Saliga, PT, MHS, NCS, Oakland University Program in Physical Therapy, 304B Hannah Hall of Science, Rochester, MI 48309-4401 (

Copyright © 2004 the Section on Geriatrics of the American Physical Therapy Association