Protect Your Loved Ones: Watch Out for These 3 Signs of Elder Abuse
In this article, we explore the topic of elder abuse in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Read on to learn what constitutes elder abuse, what physical and emotional symptoms may point to it, and what action you should take if you suspect your loved one may have been abused.
The US population is aging. Currently, Americans aged 65 years and older comprise 16 percent of the population. By 2060, however, this percentage is projected to rise to 23 percent. Today, the oldest American demographic group includes 52 million people; it is estimated that in 40 years’ time, this number will nearly double and amount to 92 million. Coupled with the ever-rising cost of at-home care, these numbers also mean that more and more aging Americans must count on the services provided by a nursing home to ensure that their health needs are met.
The decision to move an aging family member to a nursing facility is often a difficult one. Most families decide to do so because they know it is the only viable option to provide their elderly loved ones with the care and medical attention they need. Still, due to physical distance and lack of direct contact, the family may deal with uncertainty or anxiety over their family member’s safety and well-being.
Unfortunately, any family’s fears are well substantiated. According to a recent report, New Mexico’s nursing homes have been ranked as the second-lowest for quality of care and the fifth-highest in the number of deficiencies per facility across the country. In some cases, such flaws may be so serious that they may qualify as nursing home elder abuse.
From this article, you will learn what constitutes elder abuse in nursing facilities. You will also discover 5 signs that may indicate your aging loved one has fallen victim to elder abuse and that you need to act decisively to protect his or her health and well-being.
What Constitutes Elder Abuse
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines elder abuse as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.”
In line with this definition, the following actions may constitute elder abuse in the context of nursing homes:
- Neglect, which can range from leaving the resident unattended for an extended period of time, to failing to provide the basic necessities including food, water, and medicine
- Physical abuse such as pushing, hitting, slapping, or even restraining the resident
- Emotional abuse including verbal and psychological abuse
- Sexual abuse
Below, we provide an overview of the most common symptoms that may point to elder abuse.
1. Substandard Living Conditions
The first sign that should set off your internal alarm is substandard and unsanitary conditions in the nursing home. Even if your loved one does not yet demonstrate any worrisome physical or emotional changes, a poor state of the rooms or living space and common areas may indicate that the facility is struggling to provide an adequate level of care. This situation can quickly escalate into neglect.
Therefore, whenever you visit your elderly family member, be alert to issues like foul smells, dirty bathrooms, stained bedsheets, visible traces of old food scattered around the room or laying on a tray, and similar signs indicating substandard, unsanitary conditions. You shouldn’t be afraid to speak up about such conditions to the facility’s staff and management. At the same time, you should be prepared to take more decisive action if you notice the problem every time you visit your loved one.
2. Severe, Repeated, or Unexplained Injuries
You should be concerned if you notice visible injuries on your loved one’s body, especially if he or she doesn’t want to talk about what has occurred, or if the explanation they give is incoherent. Injuries may be a sign of either physical violence or extreme neglect.
Some common nursing home injuries that may be caused by or related to abuse include:
- Strange, unexplained bruising or scars
- Unusual weight loss that can’t be ascribed to an underlying medical condition
- Sprained or broken bones
- Repeated injuries
3. Sudden Changes in Mood, Personality or Behavior Patterns
Another common symptom of elder abuse is related to surprising changes in personality and behavior patterns.
This may include sudden mood swings that can’t be explained by regular medication or ongoing treatment. Your loved one may seem depressed or withdrawn. You may also notice that your family member has lost interest in activities he or she previously enjoyed and has become irritable, angry, or impatient with you or fellow residents.
Of course, while personality and behavior changes are not always caused by abuse, they are nevertheless a worrisome sign that should never be ignored.
Elder abuse in nursing homes and long-term care facilities is a silent, underreported problem that affects thousands of aging Americans each year. If you notice any of the signs of elder abuse mentioned in this article when visiting your loved one in a nursing home or care facility, you must act decisively to protect your family member.
You should also be aware that nursing home abuse may be either a civil or a criminal offense that may warrant legal action. Elderly nursing home residents who have fallen victim to abuse or neglect may be compensated for their injuries. A skillful attorney can provide you with more information on how to proceed if you discover that your loved one has been abused.