Elderly Abuse Information
Elder Abuse, Nursing Home Neglect and the Law
By Mary Ann Pekara
Abuse and neglect of senior citizens is a serious problem in the United States. As people age and need extra assistance daily, frustrated family members or caregivers may take advantage of their vulnerable situation by abusing them physically, sexually or emotionally, or by stealing and misusing money and property.
Elder abuse is generally defined as any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.
Every state has specific laws against elder abuse, and though there may be some differences state-to-state, it is against federal law for any person or nursing home facility to abuse, exploit, harm or put an elderly person at risk of harm.
Elderly People at Risk
Older people are often victimized because they can be frail, vulnerable and might depend upon others for life's basic necessities.
According to a report by the Administration on Aging, instances of substantiated elder abuse are on the rise with over 42 percent of the victims in 20 states being over the age of 80. A 2003 study showed that the elderly are being abused by their adult children in 32.6 percent of cases, by other family members in 21.5 percent of cases and by spouses or partners in 11.3 percent of cases.
Types of Elder Abuse
Sometimes the signs of elder abuse can be difficult to spot in the absence of physical injuries and more subtle signs must be taken into consideration. Victims of elder abuse may be unaware that they are being victimized.
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- Physical Abuse is typically classified as causing or threatening to cause physical injury or pain to an elderly person or depriving them of a basic necessity.
- Sexual Abuse is generally any non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an elderly person.
- Psychological or Emotional Abuse happens when someone does something to create mental or emotional distress in an elderly person.
- Financial or Material Exploitation occurs when a person illegally takes, misuses or conceals the money, property or assets of an elderly person.
- Elder Neglect is the failure or refusal by a person or nursing home facility responsible for the care of an elderly person to provide the basic necessities of life including food, shelter, health care and protection.
- Self-Neglect occurs when an elderly person exhibits behavior that threatens his or her own health and safety and intervention is required.
- Abandonment is the desertion of a vulnerable elderly person by the person or nursing home facility who is responsible for his or her care or custody.
Reporting Suspected Elder Abuse
When there is cause to believe that an elderly person is being abused, exploited or neglected, the state Adult Protective Services office should be contacted. The APS agency keeps all reports confidential and investigates potential cases of elder abuse in situations that state elder abuse laws are possibly being violated. A case worker is generally assigned to conduct the investigation to determine if state elder abuse laws have been violated.
The National Center on Aging provides a listing of elder abuse help lines and hotlines for each state. The hotline number for the state in which the suspected elder abuse victim lives should be used when there are suspicions of elder abuse.
Additionally, information and referrals to state APS agencies are available from the National Eldercare Locator, which is a public service provided by the U.S. Administration on Aging. To use this service, call 1-800-677-1116 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. - 8 p.m.
In emergency situations, local police should be contacted by dialing 911.
When elder abuse happens to a loved one, it can also be helpful to contact a personal injury or elder abuse lawyer for help and advice.
Signs of Nursing Home Neglect and Elder Abuse
Since Medicaid and Medicare were established in 1965, nursing homes have been subject to federal regulations. Nursing homes that receive payment from Medicare and Medicaid must follow federal guidelines and meet federal standards.
Additionally, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 requires that the facility provide each patient with care that will enable the patient "to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental and psychosocial well-being."
If nursing home abuse is suspected, the National Longterm Care Ombudsman Resource Center can help file a complaint.
With that said, here are some warning signs that nursing home abuse may be taking place:
- Physical Injuries - Any unexplained cuts, bruising, burns, sprains or broken bones could be a signal that an elderly person is being victimized, especially when there are multiple injuries in various stages of healing.
- Bedsores or Frozen Joints - These can be an indication that an elderly person is being neglected and left sitting or in bed for extremely long periods of time without any movement.
- Symptoms of Sexual Abuse - Sexual abuse of an elderly person can be evident by unexplained genital infections or sexually transmitted diseases, vaginal or anal bleeding and torn, stained or bloody underwear.
- Sudden Changes In Behavior - When an elderly person's attitude or behavior abruptly changes or sudden changes to financial documents or wills are made, this could be a sign of elder abuse.
- Changes in Attitude and/or Rules By Nursing Home Staff - If the nursing home staff suddenly will not allow an elderly person to have visitors or allow visitors to be alone with an elderly person, it may be time to contact an elder abuse lawyer or a state APS agency to report suspected elder abuse.
- Excessive Medication - If an elderly person is being over-medicated or constantly sedated while in a nursing home, this can be a sign of elder abuse.
- Loss of Money and/or Material Possessions - Many elderly people are financially exploited while they are in nursing homes. Any sudden withdrawals from an elderly person's bank account, changes made to the bank account or banking practices or loss of material possessions can be a sign of elder abuse.
Effects of Elder Abuse and Nursing Home Abuse
Elderly people can sustain serious injuries and illnesses, become financially devastated or die from undetected or unreported elder abuse.
It is very important that any suspected elder abuse be reported to the authorities immediately in order to protect the elderly. In substantiated cases of elder abuse, a personal injury lawyer can help determine what steps should be taken on behalf of the elderly person who has been victimized.
To get in touch with a personal injury lawyer in your area, fill out our free personal injury case evaluation form or call 877-288-7564.