Elderly Abuse in Nursing Homes

The elderly population in America is growing quickly. According to the 2010 Census, more than 40 million people are at least 65 years old. Almost six million of that group are 85 or older. This oldest segment is expected to grow by 20% in the next 40 years. This growth is causing a great increase in the number of nursing homes. Without action, elderly abuse statistics will continue to grow.

The statistics regarding elderly abuse in nursing homes are quite alarming. It is estimated there are two million cases of elder abuse reported annually. One out of 10 elderly will eventually experience some type of elder abuse. Also, many experts in nursing home issues report that most elderly abuse cases are unreported.

To get a better understanding of the problem of elder abuse in nursing homes and what to do about it, it is important to understand some basic facts about it. Below is more information, including legal options.

Overview of Elderly Abuse

Elder abuse is defined as any action that victimizes an elderly person to the gain of another person. Family members may not have the skills and financial resources to provide the needed care for elderly family members with special medical needs. Their only choice as their loved one ages is to delegate that work to a skilled nursing home. When a nursing home assumes responsibility of caring for an elderly person, there is trust needed between the nursing home, the elderly person and the family.

But when the relationship of trust is broken due to elderly abuse, the person and the family may be able to sue the nursing home to recover damages for injuries. Today, elderly abuse in nursing homes can lead to civil lawsuits and even criminal charges in most states. It is important to remember that nursing homes owe the elderly person and their family a duty of care. If that is breached, then you could have legal options that can include compensation for damages – both physical and emotional – for your loved one.

Elderly Abuse in Nursing Home Statistics

Elderly abuse is a growing problem in nursing homes, and affects four percent of the elder population each year. Still, fewer than one in 14 cases is ever reported. Also consider this concerning statistics:

  • From 1999 to 2001, almost ⅓ of nursing homes received citations for violations of federal standards that could lead to harm or did harm elderly residents.
  • Almost 10% of nursing homes had violations that posed risk of serious injury or death, or did cause such to elderly residents.
  • More than 40% of people who live in nursing homes have reported being abused, and at least 90% report they or another person in their nursing home was neglected.
  • 2010 research suggests that as many as 50% of nursing home attendants have either abused or neglected their elderly patients.
  • More than 50% of certified nursing assistants have said they have verbally abused nursing home residents.

But it is important to note that statistics on elder abuse in these facilities are often incomplete. Many senior citizens cannot communicate because of mental and physical disabilities. Others may fear retaliation from staff members in the nursing home if they report any incidents. A strong sense of helplessness could force the senior citizen to minimize or dismiss mistreatment because of a belief that there is not alternative but to continue in that environment.

Federal and state government officials have noticed the issues with elder abuse and are trying to increase oversight of elder care and nursing home facilities. Federal law does not state anything specifically about this problem, but all 50 states offer services and assistance for victims of this crime.

Those who are accused of committing elderly abuse may be charged under that jurisdiction’s criminal code for such crimes as assault and battery, fraud, rape, etc. Other states have adopted new statutes that specify criminal penalties for elderly abuse.

Private people and organizations also often are filing lawsuits when there is evidence of negligence. Family members of elder abuse victims should always keep watch for signs of abuse and neglect.

Types of Elderly Abuse in Nursing Homes

There are five basic types of elderly abuse that can occur either inside or outside nursing homes:

  • Physical abuse: This is the most common type of elder abuse in nursing homes. It is the use of physical force that can cause bodily harm, impairment or physical pain. Physical pain can include hitting, beating, striking, pushing, shoving, kicking, slapping and pinching. These are actions that can be done to the person as the aggressor assumes that the elderly person has a lower level of mental competence.
  • Neglect: This is the failure of caregivers to perform their duties of care for elderly patients. It can include not providing medicines, proper hygiene, food and personal safety. It can happen if the caregiver does not provide adequate care, even if it is unintentional. It also can happen if workers lack the expertise and knowledge about how to provide care and the stresses of providing that care.
  • Sexual abuse: This is rarer in nursing homes but it does occur. Some caregivers and even family members have been known to engage in undesired sexual activity with elderly residents.
  • Psychological abuse: This also is common in nursing homes as nursing home workers may be frustrated with working with elderly people with special needs. This can be seen by watching how caregivers interact with patients in their day to day work.
  • Financial abuse: This is less common in the nursing home setting, but it can occur from time to time. Financial abuse is the improper and illegal use of the assets of the person. This might include cashing the person’s Social Security check or pension check without their permission. Or, someone may take property or money from the person, or deceive the resident into giving away property at a fraction of its value. This type of elder abuse is commonly done by family members.

Signs and Symptoms of Elder Abuse

Below are the common signs of the various types of elder abuse.

  • Physical abuse: Watch for abrasions, bruises, burns, pressure marks and broken bones. Also, listen for strange explanations for injuries, such as the person ran into a door or fell down steps. Family should also look for sprains, dislocations, sudden hair or tooth loss, and especially if the injuries have no clear explanation. Some other signs are the nursing home not allowing you to visit the senior alone, or taking the person to several other facilities for treatment.
  • Neglect: Look for dirty clothes, poor hygiene, bedsores, weight loss, lack of medically needed items. If the elder has a disability, especially a cognitive one, it is usually neglect if the nursing home workers are not providing proper assistance. But passive neglect also can occur if the abuse is unintentional, which can happen if the caregivers are undertrained and/or overworked.
  • Verbal and emotional abuse: The elder may be withdrawn and apathetic; show strange behavior such as biting or rocking; nervous and fearful around caregivers; tense relationship with caregivers; snapping or yelling is seen on the part of caregivers; and forced isolation by caregiver. Emotional abuse can be difficult to pinpoint. The victim may not be able to describe what is going on because of dementia or illness. This type of abuse can be simple verbal insults or a more aggressive verbal attack.
  • Sexual abuse: Look for breast bruises; bruises around the genitals; evidence of sexually transmitted diseases; vaginal or rectal bleeding; trouble standing or walking; signs of depression or withdrawal; and flirtiness by the caregiver.

What To Do If You Suspect Elderly Abuse

It is recommended by the National Center on Elder Abuse to call 911 if you suspect an elderly person’s life is in danger due to abuse and neglect in a nursing home. If the danger is not immediate, but you think abuse is occurring, you should call the local adult protective services agency in your city or county, or call the police.

After you have called in the local authorities, an investigation will be initiated. This investigation could take weeks or even months. At this point, it can be wise to secure legal counsel. If you decide to file an elder abuse lawsuit, your attorney can help you with the following:

  • Assist you in notifying state and local agencies to report the situation
  • Help you to find other living arrangements for your loved one
  • Assist you in getting the compensation your loved one is entitled to for her pain and suffering
  • Work with you to have an investigation done to substantiate your beliefs about the abuse

If the attorney believes the case is strong enough, she will take the elderly abuse case on a contingency basis. This means the lawyer will be paid approximately ⅓ of whatever settlement or judgement is awarded. The percentage the attorney takes could be higher if the case goes through a lengthy trial or appeal.

If you suspect your loved one has been a victim of elderly abuse, it is important to talk to a qualified attorney in your state immediately.

Additional Nursing Home Abuse Resources

References