Elder Abuse

Elder abuse happens in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and even encompasses abusive acts against the elderly committed within the family home.  Regardless of location, although still subject to state-specific statutory and penal code considerations, elder abuse entails a defendant party willingly causing physical injury to an elderly patient, including the inappropriate use of confinements, restraints, threats of physical injury, as well as the knowing infliction of mental distress related to these experiences.

Essentially, elder abuse is any form of mistreatment of the elderly, which shockingly, each year approximately 2.1 million older Americans fall victim to in one or more forms. Moreover, this statistic does not include the countless cases of elder abuse that go unreported, which is estimated to be the overwhelming majority of times according to state and federal elder abuse regulators.

If you suspect a nursing home staff member or an elderly person’s caregiver of abuse, it is important to report it as soon as possible to prevent any further harm or distress.

Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities as Sites of Elder Abuse

The most common place elder abuse occurs is at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. While it is often difficult to know or recognize the signs of elder abuse, especially if the abuse in not physical in nature, the following spectrum of elder abuse behaviors and warning signs can assist with families suspicious about nursing home abuse, including:

  • Physical abuse: which as mentioned above takes many forms, but as a warning sign, leaves an elderly victim with visible, yet poorly explained injuries, a sudden shift in opinion on staff left unexplained, showing social isolation, and finally, showing a submissive persona around a certain staff member
  • Emotional abuse: which is an aspect of physical elder abuse, however, in and of itself consists of threats, harassments, and intimidation of elderly residents by staff members, including emotional exploitation or control as part of other forms of abuse. Signs of ongoing emotional abuse are highly difficult to spot, but may include visible and observable instances of yelling, profanity, or threats endured by the elderly resident with similar warning signs as physical abuse victims
  • Financial abuse: which involves unlawful or unethical control or access to the financial accounts or identity of an elderly person for personal gain by staff members, family members, or friends. Signs of elder financial abuse occurring usually include unusual banking transactions, as well as unusually frequent or uncommon discussions of money between a staff member and an elderly patient
  • Sexual abuse: which involves any form of sexual contact between an elderly patient and a paid nursing home professional.

Specifically, in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, the most common occurrence of elder abuse tends to be alongside a longstanding pattern of neglect by nursing home facilities and staff members as well. The warning signs that a nursing home patient may be enduring abuse that are non-verbal include psychological or emotional fluctuations including labile moods, trouble sleeping, exhibiting agitated, or unusual behaviors.

Elder Abuse by Family Members or In-Home Caregivers

As mentioned, elder abuse does not just happen at the hands of poorly trained nursing home staff members. Sadly, elder abuse can also occur within the family home either by actual family members or by in-home caretakers. Elder abuse in the home is typically financially based, or in other words, due to the vulnerability and dependency on the family or caregiver, elderly individuals are financially abused often via deception, identity theft, misappropriation of funds, and misallocation of social welfare benefits or income. Financial abuse involves any conduct that sole purpose is to take money or property for the self-gain of the defendant and not for the gain of the nursing home or elderly individual, with a number of states now adding enhanced criminal penalties for financial crimes targeting the elderly. Furthermore, scams or fraudulent acts also fall under the category of financial elder abuse.

Warning Signs and Legal Intervention in Elder Abuse Cases

There are countless warning signs for elder abuse, as elder abuse clearly can happen in a variety of way in both nursing homes as well as in the family home. Signs of elder abuse such as bed injuries, malnutrition, unexplainable injuries, unpaid bills, missing belongings, unusual withdrawals from bank accounts, sudden or unusual changes to wills and legal documentation, visible signs of emotional distress, and others should be taken seriously by concerned parties and rouse serious suspicion in most cases. Legal intervention is always advised if it is presumed that immediate intervention will prevent any further harm, abuse, or neglect to the patient or others. Therefore, if you suspect that your loved one or family member is being mistreated in anyway contact the necessary authorities and retain legal counsel to ensure that the people who are responsible are held accountable for their negligence and intentional harm.

For more intervention on the common patterns of elder abuse identified by researchers at the University of Maryland, as well as those from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service:

 

https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=140338

https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=70678

http://www.gao.gov/assets/220/214127.pdf