You might think that old age is a time that should bring honor and dignity. Sadly, as many as 10% of elders may be victims of abuse or neglect according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Many cases may not even be reported.
Never allow suspected abuse to continue unchecked. Read on to learn what to do if you suspect elder abuse in a nursing home.
Knowing What to Do If You Suspect Elder Abuse
There is no reason to believe that your elderly relative or friend will be the victim of abuse or neglect. Most people in a nursing home or in long term care will have excellent service. They are likely to receive the care they need and deserve.
Despite this, elder abuse does occur, and it is a good idea to be prepared. Understanding the rights and reasonable expectations of elders in a care home can help reduce the impact if things go wrong. Take a little time to learn what elder abuse is and how to spot it.
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse can take many forms. Physical abuse is the use of physical force such as hitting, pushing and slapping. It can result in injury and pain.
Some physical abuse is subtler including unwarranted use of restraints or drugs. Physical punishments fall into this category.
Non-consensual sexual contact or sexual contact with someone who cannot give consent is sexual abuse. Sexual contact can include touching, rape, and forced nudity.
Inflicting distress, even if this is not by physical abuse, is emotional or psychological abuse. It can be a result of threats, humiliation or other forms of harassment. Even isolation can be a means of inflicting abuse.
Neglect is also a form of elder abuse. Failing to provide necessary care including medicine, personal hygiene, and even comfort can be forms of neglect. More obviously, failing to provide food and water is also neglect.
Some cases of abuse involve illegal coercion of an older person to sign documents, theft of money or belongings, and even improper use of the power of attorney.
What Are the Signs of Elder Abuse?
Signs of physical harm are bruises, wounds, and broken bones. Other signs can include indications that the older person has been restrained. Elders may report abuse or may show a change in behavior, or caregivers may not allow you to be alone with the elder.
Signs of sexual abuse may be confined to the genital area. Vaginal or anal bleeding and torn or stained clothing are also indicators of sexual abuse. An elder may also report the abuse.
Other indicators of abuse include upset, agitation, and lack of communication. Neglect can be identified by poor personal hygiene, dehydration or malnutrition. Financial exploitation may be difficult to detect but changes in bank balance, unexplained financial transactions and changes to assets are among the indications to look out for.
The first priority in any suspected abuse situation is to protect the elder from harm. Stay calm and assess the situation. Ask questions of the older person privately and ask the nursing home staff members for explanations of any unusual circumstances.
If your loved one is at immediate risk of harm, call 911. It’s not necessary to wait until there is a life-threatening situation. Contacting the police will also mean they can help you determine what needs to be done to protect the elder from any future risk of abuse.
If necessary, remove your loved one from the nursing home or assisted living facility. Take your concerns to management and discuss what can be done to make your elderly loved one safe and secure.
Report the Abuse
You may be able to file a complaint at this stage. You may find that the nursing home management is uncooperative. This may be through fear of litigation or concern about any future investigation.
Do not be deterred. You should also contact the local Adult Protective Services Agency. They will investigate complaints about abuse or neglect of elders. They may visit the older person and the care home.
A long term care ombudsman may also be helpful. They can act as an advocate for the elderly person. They may be able to help resolve problems with care and even assist with a complaint of abuse.
Keep a Record
In cases of abuse and neglect, it is important to collect and keep evidence that might be useful later in the complaint process. Take photographs of any injuries or signs of abuse. Keep medical records and reports.
Take copies of any documentation that is generated through the complaint process such as accident reports or complaint forms. Make notes at the time about what you do and say and the actions and statements of other parties. A diary of the observations that lead to your suspicions is also helpful.
Act to Improve Things
Make a request of the care home to correct any lapses in care standards. Ask for details of the action they are taking to protect your elderly loved one from abuse and maintain their wellbeing.
Make frequent and unexpected visits to monitor progress. Ask and get regular feedback on progress.
Take Legal Advice
An experienced attorney with expertise in this area of the law will be able to help you report your suspicions to the authorities. They can also help ensure that the appropriate action is taken.
A civil or criminal case may follow your complaint. Having an attorney will help get justice for your elderly loved one. If your loved one has suffered any harms or losses, they may be entitled to compensation.
Taking Care of the Elderly
Elderly people are sometimes very well able to protect themselves from abuse, but this is not always the case. When an elderly person is not able to protect themselves, they rely on others to do what is right to protect them. Knowing what to do if you suspect elder abuse is part of all our duty as responsible citizens.
To talk to an attorney about elder abuse, contact Beltz & Beltz.