VOICES project to curb elder abuse kicked off at Yale event with Blumenthal

Bruce Barber, Gail D’Onofrio, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Fuad Abujarad
Left to right: Bruce Barber of WNPR; Gail D’Onofrio, chair, Yale Department of Emergency Medicine; U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Fuad Abujarad, assistant professor, Yale Department of Emergency Medicine (Photo credit: Marco Roldan)

The Department of Emergency Medicine (DEM) at Yale School of Medicine kicked off the start of a new project to combat elder mistreatment (EM) with a community event at Monterey Place in New Haven, Connecticut on Friday, Jan. 4. 

We are honored that Senator Richard Blumenthal, a longtime advocate for elderly rights and protection, joined us in raising awareness about this critical issue that affects 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60,” said Fuad Abujarad, the project’s principal investigator.

Funded by a $1.5 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, the project — Virtual cOaching in making Informed Choices on Elder Mistreatment Self-Disclosure (VOICES) — is aimed at developing an interactive tool to screen for EM that would facilitate the reporting of elder abuse to providers.

Moderated by Bruce Barber, general manager at WNHU and host at WNPR-FM, the event was attended by 40 residents of the Monterey Place apartment complex for seniors in New Haven. Abujarad emphasized that only 1 in 24 cases of suspected elder abuse or neglect are reported to authorities. DEM chair Gail D’Onofrio spoke about why the emergency department (ED), a critical catchment area for screening for all types of mistreatment, is often the only opportunity for older adults to get help. “There is a critical need to implement a healthcare provider-based protocol in a busy ED,” she said. “The VOICES project is important because it will help identify those who do not, will not, or cannot speak on their own behalf and be their own voice.” 

Blumenthal, a member of the Special Committee on Aging, stressed the importance of bringing attention to the issue, saying: “Elder abuse and neglect, be it physical, emotional, sexual, or financial, is a crime, but it is under-reported because of shame, fear, and embarrassment. It is a dirty little secret — not so little; it’s actually huge, prevalent, persistent, and pernicious throughout our society.”

Nickia McAuley, resident services coordinator for Monterey Place said the residents were thrilled to have the opportunity to meet the senator, to learn about VOICES, and to express their views on this topic that affects so many people in their age group.

VOICES, a virtually guided decision-making intervention tool to screen for EM in a point-of-care setting, utilizes virtual coaching, interactive multimedia libraries (e.g. graphics, video clips, animations, etc.), techniques from electronic screening for intimate partner violence, and brief motivational interviewing to promote self-disclosure. “EM is a social justice problem for all members of society,” said Abujarad. “The effects of EM include injury, increased dependence on services, mental distress, and increased mortality, and we are currently developing a tool that will allow older adults to feel safe about disclosing EM to their provider.”

A nationally recognized expert in health information technology, Abujarad has over 20 years of experience in research focused on mobile-health technology, human-computer interaction, elder mistreatment, informed consent, system development, and systems that provide real-time background searches for childcare and eldercare workers.

VOICES is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health.

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Media Contact

Ziba Kashef: ziba.kashef@yale.edu, 203-436-9317