During the course of interviewing senior living residents and, sometimes, employees, a respondent may share sensitive or concerning information with the interviewer. Such information could occur during an interview via phone, online, or written survey response. While these types of disclosure by respondents do not rise to the level of elder abuse or neglect allegations or intent to harm oneself or others, they still demand attention.

The senior living community should be contacted immediately with the information, while preserving the confidentiality of the respondent. In some cases, a respondent may verbally or otherwise waive confidentiality by requesting that the interviewer or survey research company report the information to the community, inclusive of their name. However, unless this is the clear case, confidentiality in these circumstances should be maintained.

However, if a respondent shares that they are being abused, neglected, or in some other way harmed, mandated reporting requirements may be triggered. Information provided that discloses elder abuse or the intent to harm oneself or others requires reporting to the proper authorities.

If the subject or content of a study is likely to elicit this type of information or disclosure and mandatory reporting is compelled, the consent information must disclose this likelihood as a potential risk to participants. Study respondents must be informed that there are circumstances where a breach of their confidentiality is required by law. The language of such informed consent that shares the dual responsibilities of confidentiality, and mandatory reporting requirements can be a challenging balance.

An example of such informed consent language is:

There is one exception to us being able to maintain our promise of confidentiality. During this interview, if information is revealed about [elder abuse or neglect or potentially harmful future behavior to yourself or others]. The law requires us to report such information to the proper authorities.

However, there is no need to include this information about reporting requirements if the study being conducted is unlikely to elicit reportable information. It is also important to note that Certificates of Confidentiality, issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a federal government agency, do not apply to or allow exceptions to mandatory reporting laws.  If you have questions or concerns about elder abuse or neglect, please go to the National Center on Elder Abuse Resources.

Article Resource: American Association for Public Opinion Research