Elder abuse includes the physical, emotional, or sexual harm inflicted upon an older adult, their financial exploitation, or neglect of their welfare by people who are directly responsible for their care. This abuse can happen in many different places. Elderly people are at risk of being abused at home, in the homes of relatives, and at nursing care facilities. In the U.S. alone, more than half a million reports of elder abuse reach authorities every year, and millions more cases go unreported.
If you believe that your loved one is dealing with a harmful or neglectful situation or is being financially exploited, there are a few things you need to do to ensure their safety and care. This is important because as older adults become more physically frail, they’re less able to take care of themselves, and may not be able to stand up to bullying by nursing home staff or fight back if attacked. Mental or physical ailments can make them more trying companions for those who live with them. And since they may not see or hear as well or think as clearly as they used to, it may leave openings for unscrupulous people to take advantage of them.
There may be cases where elder abuse is not being taken seriously by family members, supervisors or other loved ones. They may believe the person has developed dementia or are not making any sense. While signs of abuse can overlap with mental deterioration, every case should be investigated, because there may be a chance the patient is experiencing neglect.
WARNING SIGNS OF ABUSE
You can assume that an elderly individual is being abused if there are changes in their behavior and personality, or frequent tension between the elder and their caregiver. Some seniors are difficult to manage because they have a lot of needs, especially when the person is dependent on others for care or have many medical conditions. The demands versus the ability to meet these demands can cause problems that put the elderly person at risk.
While many spouses, friends, adult children and other relatives find that caring for their senior can be enriching and satisfying, this isn’t the case for everyone. The caretaker may experience depression, stress, substance abuse, or ill feelings directed to the elderly person because there is no “reward” for the caretaking work.
Even if the caregiver is paid and works for a nursing facility, there can be stress involved that can lead to abuse of the elder. Staff of nursing facilities can be prone to abusing the elderly if they have too many jobs to do, lack appropriate training, work in poor environments or are unsuitable to care for the elderly.
If you suspect the elder is being abused, look for additional signs of abuse:
Physical abuse may look like unexplained broken bones, dislocations or sprains, bruising, scars or welts seen on the body. It can also include failing to take medications properly, or signs of restraint, such as rope marks on the elder’s wrist, broken eyeglasses and the refusal of the caregiver to let a loved one be alone with the elderly person
An elderly person experiencing emotional abuse may exhibits unusual behavior in the elderly person that can resemble symptoms of dementia, including mumbling behaviors, sucking one’s thumb, or rocking behaviors. Witnessing belittling, controlling or threatening behavior on the part of the caregiver may also be signs of emotional abuse.
Sexual abuse is unfortunately occurrent in nursing homes. Unexplained STDs or other genital infections, bruising near the genitals or around the breasts, stained, bloody or torn underwear, and vaginal or anal bleeding unrelated to a medical condition.
Caregiver neglect may be more difficult to establish, so it is important to pay close attention to the signs that your loved one may be trying to give about the neglectful caretaker. These signs include leaving the elderly personal alone at a public location, providing unsafe living conditions, such as a lack of heat, faulty electrical wiring, fire hazards or lack of running water.
A neglectful caretaker may also unsuitably dress your loved one for the weather, such as putting them in jackets in the summer or shorts for the winter. They may also not bathe the person or leave them dirty, which can result in the elderly person living with soiled bed clothing, dirty clothes, bugs or dirty conditions. The presence of bedsores from not turning the patient regularly is an indicator that this could be happening, as well as an unusual loss of weight or dehydration.
Financial Exploitation of the Elderly
A caretaker can also financially abuse an elderly person. Changes in the elderly person’s financial situation include unexplained withdrawals from the elderly person’s bank accounts, changes in power of attorney, life insurance policies, property titles or wills, or missing cash from the elder’s home or room. Additionally, it can include Adding names to the signature card of the elder’s credit cards, ATM withdrawals when the senior is bedridden and couldn’t have done it themselves, a lack of medical care in spite of having money to afford it, and unusual goods, services or subscriptions the elder couldn’t have signed on for
Healthcare fraud may include evidence of getting too little or too much medication, having duplicate bills for the same services or devices, the lack of adequate training for the staff, insufficient amount of staff to care for the elder, and evidence of poor care, even when the services are paid in full.
HOW TO PREVENT ELDER ABUSE AND NEGLECT
As a caregiver, the following steps can help to prevent elder abuse or neglect:
Take immediate steps to relieve stress and burnout.
Stress is a major contributor to elder abuse and neglect. A caretaker can reduce stress levels by regularly practicing stress-relieving techniques such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises. Additionally, a caretaker can request help from friends, relatives, or local respite care agencies or find an adult daycare program. Every caregiver needs to take regular breaks from the stress of caring for an elder and to attend to their own needs, even if it is only for a couple of hours.
If you’re a concerned friend or family member, the following can also help to prevent abuse of an elderly person:
- Call and visit as often as you can, helping the elder to see you as a trusted confidante.
- Offer to stay with the elder so the caregiver can have a break—on a regular basis, if Possible.
- Monitor the elder’s medications to ensure the amounts being taken correspond with the prescription dates.
- Watch for financial abuse by asking the elder if you can check their bank accounts and credit card statements for unauthorized transactions.
- Identify the warning signs of abuse or neglect and report it without delay
Take care of yourself.
It is very important that a caretaker also take care of themselves. Some people might feel pressure to take care of others, which can reduce the amount of time that a person needs to care for their own hygiene, sleep, and mental care. If a caretake is not getting enough sleep, they are much more likely to succumb to anger. It is important for these reasons that a caretaker eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, and take care of their own medical needs.
Seek help for depression and other mental or emotional issues
Family caregivers are especially at risk for depression, but there are plenty of things you can do to boost your mood and outlook and overcome the problem. Get professional help. If you can’t seem to stop yourself no matter how hard you try, it’s time to get help by talking to a therapist.
Sharing your concerns and experiences with others facing the same challenges can help relieve the isolation you may be feeling as a caregiver. Caretaker Support Groups can also be a great place to gain valuable tips and insight into caring for an elder.
HOW TO REPORT ELDER ABUSE
If you are an elder who is being abused, neglected, or exploited, you need to tell at least one person, such as a doctor, a friend, or a family member whom you trust. Sometimes, others might not see the abuse or neglect, so it is important that you bring it to their attention immediately. Older adults can become increasingly isolated from society and, with no work to attend, it can be easy for abuse cases to go unnoticed for long periods. If no one is available or will not listen, call one of the helplines listed below.
If you see an older adult being abused or neglected, don’t hesitate to report the situation. And if you see future incidences of abuse, continue to call and report them. The more information that you can provide, the better the chance the elder has of getting the quality of care they need.
Many seniors don’t report the abuse they face even if they’re able for fear of retaliation from the abuser, while others view having an abusive caretaker as better than having no caretaker and being forced to move out of their own home. When the caregivers are their children, they may feel ashamed that their children are inflicting harm or blame themselves, or they just may not want children they love to get into trouble with the law. In any situation of elder abuse, it can be a real challenge to respect an older adult’s right to autonomy while at the same time making sure they are properly cared for.
In the case of an elder experiencing abuse by a primary caregiver, such as an adult child, it may not be advisable to confront the abuser yourself. This may put the older person in more danger unless you have the elder’s permission and are able to immediately move them to alternative, safe care.
A person who is being abused may also find solace in numbers. If a family caregiver is suspected of abuse, other family members may have the best chance of convincing the older adult to consider alternative care.
It is possible that your loved one is also neglecting their own care. There are a few things that you can do to make sure that the elderly person in your life is staying healthy and taking care of their health and well-being:
Even if the elder refuses your help, keep checking in with them. Enlist others to express their feelings of concern to them. Sometimes a peer or a neutral party, such as a geriatric care manager, may have a better chance of getting through.
Make sure the older adult is connected with medical services. Since self-neglect can have medical causes, share your concerns with the elder’s doctor if possible.
Offer the elder home services on a trial basis. This can help them see the positive changes they can experience, and open them up to considering alternative care. For example, encourage them to try housekeeping help for a month or a meal delivery service for a few weeks. They can also tour assisted living or other senior housing facilities without any immediate pressure to move, which may help dispel any myths or eradicate the older person’s fears about moving.
Consider legal guardianship. If you are concerned that a person’s ability to take care of themselves safely is compromised, you can look into legal guardianship or legal conservatorship. If there is not an appropriate family member available, a guardian can be appointed by the court.
Contact – Cannon & Associates: Nursing Home Law Advocates
Experience matters when you experience abuse in a nursing home. It is important to know the Oklahoma lawyer you hire is dedicated to your cause and versed in all aspects of nursing home law. Cannon & Associates is dedicated to Fierce Advocacy and will fight for your rights. Making this decision to move to a nursing home can be difficult, but Cannon & Associates is here to support and guide you through all of your options, from beginning to end. We are dedicated to helping you resolve your issues in the most advantageous setting and are ready to help you get the relief you need.