New report examines elder abuse in Iowa

older adult woman sitting in chairA new University of Iowa study finds that older Iowans who experience some form of abuse have little chance of experiencing any resolution. While most older Iowans are doing well, a large and growing number of Iowans over the age of 65 have become vulnerable, says researcher Brian Kaskie, associate professor of health management and policy at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

The report, The Elder Abuse Pathway in East Central Iowa, was co-authored by Kaskie and Leonard Sandler, clinical professor of law and director of the Law and Policy Action Clinic at the University of Iowa College of Law.

Older persons face a number of age-related challenges, including diminishing cognitive capacity, increasing physical frailty, and social isolation, which can lead to dependence on others. The researchers identified five different kinds of abuse, exploitation, or neglect that can be experienced by older adults: neglect, self-neglect, financial exploitation, physical and psychological abuse, and sexual abuse and personal degradation.

Researchers examined activities concerning elder abuse in an area of east central Iowa covering more than 1,000 square miles and two metropolitan areas with a population of more than 300,000. To gather their data, the team held a series of meetings with public agents involved with addressing elder abuse. They also conducted interviews, compiled information from law enforcement, and reviewed laws, regulations, and other data.

The researchers found that prosecution of elder abuse is a relatively rare occurrence, meaning that abusers often go unpunished. According to Kaskie, much more could be done to protect older Iowans and prosecute alleged cases.

“Issues pertaining to older adults just do not seem to compete well among the many other priorities of health, law enforcement, and public health agencies,” Kaskie says “For example, while they are by no means sufficient, public efforts to raise awareness of child abuse seem to be much more developed, and there are comparatively higher amounts of public resources being directed to the identification and investigation of child abuse.”

Despite these many challenges, Kaskie thinks the state of Iowa is poised to take several steps forward in the coming year.

“The issue of elder abuse has become a top priority for many citizen based groups and the network of aging service providers,” he says. “There also have been some signs that the legislature and governor’s office may advance this agenda in 2019.”

Recommendations from the report include: increased funding for state and county attorneys to prosecute elder abuse; involving social workers and therapists in the investigative process; funding for individuals and organizations who can serve as guardians for elders; and public awareness campaigns.

“I am hopeful that the citizens of Iowa and the persons who represent them in our government come to see this as an important bi-partisan issue,” Kaskie says. “The number of older Iowans is not getting any smaller and elder abuse is something that is happening in all corners of the state.”

A PDF of the report is available.


UI study finds existing vaccine can treat dogs infected with leishmaniasis

portrait of Christine Petersen
Christine Petersen

A vaccine used to prevent dogs from contracting the deadly, parasitic disease canine leishmaniasis also can be used to treat currently infected dogs, found Morris Animal Foundation-funded researchers at the University of Iowa, providing a new avenue of treatment for millions of infected dogs globally.

Canine leishmaniosis (CanL) is a major zoonotic disease enzootic in more than 70 countries and has recently emerged in the United States. CanL also is a concern in countries where imported disease creates a veterinary and public health problem.

The study, recently published in the journal Vaccine, provided the first clinical trial of the vaccine LeishTec™ in infected dogs. The vaccine is commercially available in Brazil, and is frequently prescribed by veterinarians there, though it had never been tested to see if it was not only safe but could fight the disease in already infected dogs.

“Too many dogs die every year because of this terrible disease, and we’ve figured out all the things that could go wrong with the body during disease. I wanted to start coming up with tools to make things go right,” said Dr. Christine Petersen, University of Iowa, Associate Professor of Epidemiology. “Usually vaccines prevent infections, but some, like the rabies post-exposure prophylactic vaccine, can be used after infection. We were happy to prove this was the case with LeishTec.”

Read the full press release…

Additional Media Coverage

Leishmaniosis vaccine study hailed potential ‘game changer’ (International Animal Health Journal)

Leishmaniasis vaccine offers hope for treatment (VNonline)

Study looks at prevalence, treatment patterns of autism spectrum disorder

A portrait of Assistant Professor Wei Bao of the Department of Epidemiology in the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Wei Bao

A new study from researchers at the University of Iowa shows that while autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is relatively prevalent among U.S. children aged 3-17 years, a large number of them don’t receive any type of treatment. The study was published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics.

The researchers looked at data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health and found that 2.8% of the 43,032 children in the survey had been diagnosed with ASD and 2.5% currently had ASD. Among the children with current ASD, 29.5% never received either behavioral or medication treatments.

Wei Bao, corresponding author of the paper and assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, says that understanding who does not receive treatment for ASD can help researchers identify and eliminate barriers to treatment.

“ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder with substantial lifetime burden to the individuals and families,” Bao says. “Although the causes of ASD remain unclear, there are some evidence-based therapies to treat the symptoms of ASD. Efforts should be made to ensure that children with ASD receive appropriate treatment, the earlier the better.”

According to Bao, understanding the status of ASD is just a start. “As a next step, we want to know what factors are related to the risk of ASD,” he says. “We are particularly interested in modifiable risk factors during pregnancy or in early life that may help figure out a way to reduce or prevent ASD in the future.”

The study, “Prevalence and Treatment Patterns of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the United States, 2016”, was first-authored by Guifeng Xu and co-authored by Lane Strathearn, Buyun Liu, Matthew O’Brien, Todd G. Kopelman, Jing Zhu, and Linda G. Snetselaar, all from the University of Iowa.

The study is available online at

Additional Media Coverage

Another study finds autism in 1 in 40 children (UPI)

Another Tally Puts Autism Cases at 1 in 40 (U.S. News)

National surveys estimate U.S. autism prevalence at 1 in 40 (Spectrum)


Study finds rural tele-ERs save money, improve physician recruitment

Marcia Ward

A new study from the University of Iowa finds rural hospitals that use telemedicine to back up their emergency room health care providers not only save money but find it easier to recruit new physicians.

Marcia Ward, study author and professor of health management and policy in the UI College of Public Health, says the results suggest that expanded use of tele-emergency services could play a key role in helping small, rural critical access hospitals maintain their emergency rooms.

“The study finds that expanding options for provider coverage to include telemedicine in some rural emergency departments has noticeable benefits,” says Ward, whose study was published Dec. 3 in the December issue of the journal Health Affairs. “This supports the viability of critical access hospitals at risk of closing and leaving their communities without local emergency care.”

Read the full story in Iowa Now…

Additional Media Coverage

For Small Hospitals, Telemedicine Can Be a Game-Changer in the ED (mHealthIntelligence)

Rural critical access hospitals benefit from telemedicine in EDs (Health Data Managment)

U-I report finds telemedicine saves money, helps draw doctors (Radio Iowa)

UI research improves school lunches for Iowa K–12 students

Portrait of Natoshia Askelson, professor in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Natoshia Askelson

The Healthy Schools-Healthy Students program works with school districts to encourage students to eat more nutritious lunches more often. The program in Iowa is administered by the Iowa Department of Education and evaluated by the University of Iowa College of Public Health. Its goal is to use strategies proven by research to reduce childhood obesity, provide fresh fruits and vegetables to students who may not have regular access to them, and establish good eating habits for life.

“Research has shown that if you get kids eating spinach and broccoli and other nutritious foods when they’re young, they’re more likely to eat them for life,” says Natoshia Askelson, assistant professor of community and behavioral health in the College of Public Health who oversees the program at UI. She and a group of UI students have been working with 10 high schools, 10 middle schools, and 10 elementary schools in two-year cycles since 2013 to implement strategies and measure results. The program wraps up in May 2019.

Read the full article in Iowa Now: UI research improves school lunches for Iowa K–12 students 

Additional Media Coverage

Putting zucchini on schoolkids’ A-list: Iowa research looked at how to make students eat more fruits and veggies (The Gazette)

College of Public Health builds healthy eating habits in rural schools (Daily Iowan)