Elder abuse has become a growing problem nationwide. The government estimates that between one and two million Americans over age 65 have been injured or mistreated by caregivers.
According to the Illinois Department of Aging, it is estimated that more than 76,000 Illinois residents over the age of 60 are elder abuse victims each year. This November the state closed the Orchard Court Nursing Home for failing to comply with safety regulations. The state may potentially revoke the licenses of six other long-term care facilities.
The true scope of nursing home abuse is difficult to grasp because of underreporting. Elderly victims often do not communicate the suffering they experience. For some older individuals this is a result of diminished capacity or intimidation from the caregiver responsible. Others are ashamed about what happened and embarrassed to discuss it with family. It is important that family members remain actively involved in a loved one's care so they can be alert for signs of neglect or abuse.
It is difficult to imagine a caregiver physically harming a vulnerable adult, but unfortunately this type of abuse happens all too often. According to the 2008 Illinois Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program Annual Report, concerns about elder care, physical abuse and neglect together make up over 25 percent of complaints.
Signs of physical abuse include:
- Inappropriate use of physical restraints
- Unexplained signs of injury: bruises, burns or broken bones
- Broken eyeglasses
Neglect often occurs because of understaffed facilities or a lack of proper training for caregivers. Many individuals in nursing homes require around-the-clock attention. The demands of this care, in combination with lack of training and short-staffed facilities, may result in neglect. Unfortunately, sometimes neglect may also be more willful.
Signs of neglect include:
- Pressure ulcers/bed sores
- Dehydration and malnutrition
- Unexplained falls
- Unsanitary living conditions, dirty clothing or bedding
- Being unsuitably clothed for the weather
- Bed-related strangulation or suffocation
Common Sign of Neglect: Pressure Ulcers
Pressure ulcers, also known as bed sores, are one of the more common ailments nursing home residents experience. Since the elderly are often unable to freely change positions, they are particularly vulnerable to pressure ulcers if not cared for appropriately.
Pressure ulcers are areas of damaged skin that occur from unrelieved pressure cutting off circulation. The lack of blood flow then causes the affected tissue to die. If health care providers do not frequently move immobile residents, bed sores can form. Bed sores range from mild to severe, where muscle or bones are exposed. The most extreme cases can be fatal.
In 2004, the CDC found roughly 159,000 nursing home residents, or about 11 percent, suffered from pressure ulcers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found hospitalizations involving pressure ulcers increased by nearly 80 percent between 1993 and 2006.
In addition to recognizing physical types of abuse and neglect, it is important to also watch for signs of emotional abuse in elderly loved ones. Emotional abuse can take several forms. These include verbal assaults, insults, threats, intimidation or harassment. Emotional abuse may not result in physical damage to the body, but the harm from words alone can be significant.
Signs of emotional abuse include:
- Withdrawal from activities
- Strange behavior such as repetitive rocking
- Depression or low self-esteem
- Involuntary seclusion
Another form of common abuse among the elderly is financial abuse. Older individuals are particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation since one of the first signs of dementia is the loss of the ability to understand money and finances. It is estimated $2.6 billion annually is fraudulently taken from seniors, according to the National Council on Aging.
The elderly also make attractive targets for financial abuse. According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, people over age 50 control 70 percent of the country's wealth.
Signs of financial abuse include:
- Unexplained account or credit card activity
- Financial statements no longer coming to the elder's home
- Missing property
- Uncharacteristic pattern of unpaid bills
- Suspicious account withdrawals by caregivers or new "friends"
- Abrupt changes to wills, powers of attorney or other legal documents
Help Prevent Elderly Abuse: Watch for Warning Signs
Victims of all forms of elder abuse and neglect experience unnecessary suffering. Financial abuse can cause an elder to lose everything they worked for and negatively impact their standard of living. Physical abuse and neglect may cause excessive discomfort or more severe consequences like wrongful death.
Elder abuse is not only unconscionable it is illegal. If you suspect a loved one has been the victim of any form of nursing home abuse or negligence you should contact a lawyer. An attorney can work to obtain compensation for the pain and suffering of your loved one.