The statistics reflecting incidents of abuse involving elderly residents in nursing homes and care facilities are both staggering and disheartening. At the broadest level, more than two (2) million cases of elder abuse are reported every year, and almost one (1) out of every ten (10) elderly individuals will experience some form of elder abuse. Moreover, virtually all parties working closely with the elderly on topics such as nursing home abuse have noted that the overwhelming majority of abuse incidents remain unreported. Sadly, while those figures reflect a national epidemic of violating the vulnerable, but also, most likely grossly understate the problem of elder abuse in the United States.
Family members often do not have the resources or skills needed to address the needs of older individuals who are infirm or who require special medical care. Their only choice is to delegate that care to a skilled nursing facility. When those institutions assume the responsibility of caring for an elderly individual, a trust relationship is created by the facility, the elderly person, and his or her family.
When that trust relationship is broken, the elderly individual and his or her family members may have a right to sue the care facility to recover damages for injuries. In this sense, the personal experience of a broken trust has a legal codification in all states, with most states now including the possibility of aggravated criminal charges or increased civil penalties in lawsuits stemming from acts of elder abuse. Nursing home care facilities owe both the elderly individual and their family members a duty of care, which if breached by way of negligence or perhaps in criminal intent, any ensuing damages would be a liability potentially assignable to the nursing home facility and others.
The elderly population in the United States is growing at a dramatic rate. The 2010 census determined that more than 40 million people in the United States, or more than 13% of the population, are more than 65 years old, and almost 6 million individuals in that group are more than 85 years old. The portion of the population in this oldest age range is expected to increase to 19% of the population within the next forty years. The growth in this population has created an equivalent increase in the number of elderly residents in nursing and elder care facilities. Without decisive action, elder abuse statistics will continue to rise with this growth of the elderly population. Consider the following:
Elder abuse in care facilities is not limited to physical violence and neglect. Unfortunately, the relatively dependent and isolated position of an elderly patient places them under a high degree of care required and owed, in which both criminal and non-criminal acts pose a great thereat to the well-being and elderly resident and indubitably violate the standard of care owed to the patient or resident.
Moreover, elder abuse occurs without the elderly persons’ knowledge in a high percentage of elder abuse cases involving financial abuse. Elder care facility residents have also reported financial abuse in the form of coercion to revise wills, deeds, or trusts to compensate caregivers, loss or theft of personal property, and compulsion to withdraw cash from bank accounts or to take loans for proceeds that are made by caregivers.
Statistics on elder abuse in nursing homes are frequently incomplete. Many elderly residents of those homes are unable to communicate effectively due to physical or mental infirmities. Others may fear retaliation from nursing home staff members if they report incidents of abuse or neglect. A pervasive sense of helplessness may force an elderly nursing home resident to rationalize or minimize any mistreatment out of a belief that there is no acceptable alternative but to reside in an abusive environment.
Government officials have taken notice of the problems and are stepping up their oversight of elder care facilities. Private parties are also filing lawsuits when facts and evidence give rise to negligence claims stemming from abuse and neglect of an elderly individual in a nursing care facility. Family members of elderly nursing home residents need to watch for evidence of abuse and neglect, which may not always be as obvious as bruises, sores, or broken bones. An elderly individual might show signs of dehydration or weight loss, for example, that may be confused with typical signs of aging. The elderly individual may seem muddled or cognitively confused. In cases lacking ostensible signs of a history of dementia, family members should look for reasons for that confusion, including overmedication or excessive use of sedatives. Sometimes the signs of abuse are as innocuous as dirty or torn clothing.
Attorneys that focus their practices on elder abuse negligence cases can give family members more detailed statistics on nursing home elder abuse and can advise them on other signs and evidence to watch for when their loved ones are living in an elder care facility. If the facts and evidence so warrant, an elder care negligence attorney can file a lawsuit against the caregivers and the facility to seek redress for any injuries caused by their abuse or neglect.