“Only our bodies know the truth. Bones don’t lie,” writes Tayari Jones in “An American Marriage.”

No one understands the power of this statement quite like Katelyn Bolhofner. The assistant professor of forensic anthropology in the School of Interdisciplinary Forensics at Arizona State University is a board-certified forensic anthropologist. As an expert in skeletal biology, she has put her prowess to work conducting active casework and advising medical examiner offices on extracting usable information from degraded and burned bones. Her projects have received funding from the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

Now, Bolhofner has teamed up with Kevin Gary, an associate professor of software engineering in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, to create a 3D skeletal bone atlas.

The pair of researchers aim to tackle a difficult, growing problem: elder abuse.

One critical challenge when dealing with elder abuse is that it can be difficult for criminologists, pathologists and others to tell the difference between accidental injuries and those that are the result of intentional harm or neglect. So, with a grant from the National Institute of Justice, Gary and Bolhofner have combined their expertise to create digital tools to diagnose bone fractures. Their software solution will allow law enforcement to better investigate elder abuse cases and help caregivers and medical responders understand when intervention is needed.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately one in 10 Americans over the age of 65 experience some form of elder abuse each year. Physical and psychological mistreatment can contribute to serious and concerning health declines in the aging population.

Bolhofner explains that forensic science has already created similar tools to help authorities deal with domestic violence and child abuse.

“I came to realize that we don’t have those same standards for interpreting the context of fractures in in older adults,” she says. “The reason that we can’t just apply the same standard across the board is that bone density changes over our lifetime. As most of us age, our bone density decreases naturally.”

With support from the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner, Bolhofner began to collect data that might help authorities spot the difference between a hip broken in a fall or one fractured as the result of a shove or to identify a fractured arm that has gone untreated and improperly healed. For the project, she combined the medical examiner’s records with the results of her own laser bone scans.

As she worked, she began to wonder if technology could help.

Read the full story on Full Circle.