Elder abuse: A growing problem

Family/Kids, Relationships

By the year 2050, 20 percent of the population will be over age 65 for the first time in history. As the population ages and life expectancy increases, our society must address the problems associated with elder abuse and neglect. And indeed many families are confronting this issue after gathering with aging parents over the holiday season.

Startling rates of abuse

Recent studies performed by the National Center on Elder Abuse, or the NCEA, have shown that 44 percent of nursing home residents have been mistreated, while 95 percent of residents have witnessed another resident being mistreated. Females and those with dementia are more likely to experience abuse.

According to the NCEA, 1 in 3 nursing homes has received citations for not meeting federal standards for preventing harm to residents. To see how your state’s nursing homes are performing, you can look at the Families for Better Care report card.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic is that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse is reported. One way in which you can fight elder abuse and the lack of reporting is through education on the types of abuse or neglect.

Nursing Home Infographic

6 common types of elder abuse

#1 Physical or sexual abuse

  • Definition: Physical force used against an elder that results in bodily harm or pain
  • Examples: Beating, hitting, pushing, shoving, slapping, shaking, burning, unwanted touching, rape, sexual assault or battery, coerced nudity
  • Symptoms or signs: Bruises, fractures or broken bones, incorrect usage of medications, wounds or cuts, changes in behavior, a caregiver not allowing visitation, unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding, unexplained sexually transmitted diseases, stained or torn undergarments

#2 Emotional or psychological abuse

  • Definition: Intentional infliction of pain, anguish or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts
  • Examples: Insults, threats, verbal assaults, intimidation, humiliation, harassment
  • Symptoms: Emotional disturbance or agitation, withdrawn or non-communicative behavior, unusual behavior usually attributed to dementia

#3 Neglect

  • Definition: Refusing or failing to provide care and necessary services, failure to fulfill an obligation to an elder
  • Examples: Not providing necessary items such as food, water, shelter, clothing, care or any other essentials
  • Symptoms: Untreated health problems, dehydration or malnutrition, unsafe living conditions

#4 Self-neglect

  • Definition: An elderly person endangering his own health or safety by refusing to provide necessary food, water, clothing, shelter, medical care, et cetera, to himself. This does not include a mentally competent person who voluntarily makes the choice to endanger his well-being.
  • Symptoms: Dehydration, unsafe living conditions, unsanitary living conditions, lack of appropriate clothing, inadequate housing

#5 Abandonment

  • Definition: The desertion of an elderly person by the individual responsible for their care
  • Examples: An elderly person left unattended at a care facility, public location or shopping center

#6 Financial or material exploitation

  • Definition: Illegal or improper use of an elder’s finances, property or assets
  • Examples: Change in banking practices, the addition of names on the elder’s bank card, unauthorized withdrawal of funds, changes to the elder’s will or other financial documents, forged signatures on financial documents, sudden transfers of assets

What can you do to help your loved one and stop abuse?

  • Be proactive: One of the best ways to prevent abuse is to be proactive. Establish a power of attorney or a will before an elder’s capacity is diminished or before one is needed. This will help protect any assets and will simplify any needed legal action.
  • Do your homework: Make sure to research any facility in which the elder will be living. Tour the facility and check its online reputation to make sure it will be a safe and enjoyable place to live. If you are finding an at-home caregiver, make sure to ask for certifications, previous experience and references. You can start your research at Families for Better Care and Nursing Home Report Cards.
  • Always be vigilant: Document any medications, unusual injuries or changes in behavior in a journal. If possible, take pictures of any injuries or unsuitable living conditions. While you will hopefully never need these, proper documentation will make the process of filing a lawsuit much easier.
  • Get out: If you notice that abuse has occurred, the first step will be removing the elder from the harmful or dangerous situation. Find a new nursing home or caregiver and ensure that the elder has a suitable caregiver and living conditions.
  • Find an attorney: The next step will be finding an attorney. There are lots of statutes that govern these types of cases, so contacting an attorney or law firm that has a focus in the area of elder abuse and neglect is important. A lawsuit can be a long process that requires lots of communication between the client and attorney. Make sure to find an attorney that you feel comfortable with, as it will be much easier if you are both on the same page. Keep in mind that laws governing medical malpractice vary by state. Your attorney will help you decide what your next steps should be.

For more information on elder abuse or neglect visit the National Center on Elder Abuse.