When elder abuse is suspected, families are often plagued with a variety of questions about the warning signs of maltreatment, how to protect their loved ones, and what to do when physical or emotional harm is discovered.
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse and neglect perpetrated by family members, personal caregivers, and nursing home facilities causes serious harm and often results in death for victims. Elderly adults who experience abuse have a 300 percent higher risk of death compared to elders who are not abused. It’s estimated that more than 25 percent of nursing home abuse and neglect cases go unreported, even though federal and state laws mandate reporting.
Elder abuse happens to men and women of various cultures, backgrounds, and social statuses. It occurs in the home perpetrated by a family member, friend, or personal caregiver, and in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and assisted living facilities perpetrated by someone with a legal obligation to provide proper care. Wherever it happens, it has profound negative effects on different aspects of a victim’s life. Elder abuse takes different forms:
- Physical Abuse – Inflicts physical pain and injuries caused by hitting, slapping, pushing, shoving, and kicking.
- Emotional Abuse – Inflicts mental pain, anguish or distress from verbal or nonverbal acts such as threats of violence, intimidation, and verbal assaults.
- Sexual Abuse – Inflicts trauma from non-consensual sexual contact or coercing an elderly person to witness sexual behaviors.
- Neglect – Inflicts physical and mental harm by failing or refusing to provide basic needs like shelter, food, health care, protection, or assistance.
- Abandonment – Inflicts harm by deserting a vulnerable elderly adult and depriving them of basic care and human rights.
- Financial Exploitation – Inflicts physical and mental anguish by illegally taking or misusing funds, property or assets of an elderly person.
What are the Warning Signs?
Friends and family should be aware of warning signs of elder abuse because many elders suffer in silence, especially vulnerable adults with cognitive disorders. Changes in physical condition, mental status, behaviors, or personality may be a red flag. Things to look out for include: bruises, abrasions, burns or broken bones; unusual depression or changes in alertness; poor hygiene, sudden weight loss or bedsores; anxiety or sudden nervousness; and sudden changes in appetite. If bruises around the genital area or breasts are visible, this may be a sign of sexual abuse.
Although signs of physical abuse and neglect are often visible, signs of emotional abuse are not. Behavioral and personality changes may be the only signs of emotional abuse, so it’s important to be observant of sudden changes. Many elders also suffer from financial exploitation by people around them, so it’s also important to watch out for sudden, unexplained changes in bank accounts, credit card charges, assets, and property.
What if Abuse is Suspected?
If elder abuse or neglect is suspected, it’s essential to reach out to someone who can help. If a loved one is in a nursing home, long-term care facility, or assisted living facility, contacting a local Ombudsman can begin a process of investigation. If a loved one is living at home, it’s important to contact Adult Protective Services to report suspicions of abuse. Adult Protective Services (APS) ensures the safety and well-being of elders and adults with disabilities who are at risk for abuse or neglect, are unable to take care of themselves or protect themselves from harm, and have no one to assist them. In most states, APS caseworkers are the first responders to reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of vulnerable adults. APS assesses a victim’s risk of abuse, conducts on-site investigations, and develops case plans for help and prevention.
What If Nursing Home Abuse is Discovered?
If nursing home abuse is discovered, there are three avenues of pursuit – a formal investigation, a civil lawsuit, or criminal prosecution.
- Formal Investigation – A formal investigation by Adult Protective Services (APS) can provide immediate relief for the resident and hopefully prevent future abuse and neglect in the nursing home.
- Civil Lawsuit – A civil lawsuit by a family member or a nursing home resident seeks compensation for losses related to elder abuse, including pain and suffering. A nursing home attorney can file a civil lawsuit.
- Criminal Litigation – Typically, criminal litigation involves extreme cases of elder abuse or neglect. In such cases, a nursing home has usually failed to meet federal and state regulations that mandate resident care and safety.
How can Abuse be Prevented?
Family members of vulnerable elders should be informed and aware of the signs of elder abuse and neglect. Adult protective and long-term care ombudsman programs, family care supports, and home and community care services that help elderly adults with daily living needs are available in all states. Information and local services can be found through Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116.