As our loved ones grow old and caring for them becomes a daunting, often unapproachable challenge, sometimes the need for a nursing home becomes unavoidable. The senior population of Oklahoma City, for instance, is more than 10 percent of the total, requiring a vast infrastructure of senior care homes, and unfortunately, even with the oversight of qualified professionals, seniors in the U.S. remain the most vulnerable people to all forms of abuse.
Whether physical, emotional, sexual, financial, or neglectful in nature, some estimates conclude that one in 10 seniors over the age of 60 have been victims of nursing home abuse. That’s more than five million victims in the U.S. This is a rampant epidemic, yet the problem at its core is identifying when abuse is happening. Identifying and reporting abuse go hand-in-hand; where it remains invisible, it is not reported, and where it is not reported, it remains invisible.
8 Reasons Nursing Home Abuse Can Be Hard to Detect
1. Abuse Is Often Invisible
When we think of what abuse entails, it invokes scenes of unmistakable mistreatment and violence. Yet the unfortunate reality of the nature of abuse is nuanced, complex, and often invisible. Loved ones, friends, staff members, and fellow residents may not even be aware that the abuse is happening, and for a multitude of different reasons. Abuse goes beyond the use of violence and excessive force.
Sexual assault and negligence are two equally common, and equally heart-breaking, forms of abuse that nursing home residents might find themselves subjected to. Bruises and injuries resulting from violence can be hidden by the abuser, sexual mistreatment is both a difficult subject to broach and wrapped up in negative feelings of shame or embarrassment, and neglect can often fly under the radar as a particularly insidious type of exploitation.
2. Abusers Know How to Hide Their Actions
Not all mistreatment is intentional. Yet, regardless of whether it results from malice or neglect, abusers are very good at hiding their actions. Most abusers are repeat offenders, having likely done so before. They know who their most vulnerable residents are, when their colleagues are on shift, and who among them will look the other way. They pick their victims carefully, engaging in abuse when there are no witnesses around to notice, or nobody around to care.
In the aftermath, they will cover up their actions, hiding injuries or attributing them to pre-existing illnesses and playing down complaints should a victim speak out. They have first-hand knowledge of how their colleagues tick, and prime-time access to them to offer their version of events. An abuser can even make subtle suggestions about a patient’s demeanor or mental wellbeing that call into question the very times they do speak out against their abuser.
3. Seniors May Not Report Their Abuse
Seniors are adults, and a regrettable reality of nursing homes is that they are often wrapped up in the emotional turmoil of receding independence. Loved ones have known them all their lives, still thinking of them as being wholly capable of fending for themselves. However, many abused seniors will not report their abuse, for many of the reasons found on this list. To make matters worse, abusers are well-aware of this fact and will exploit it.
Therefore, it falls on a senior’s families and loved ones to remain vigilant and look for the signs of abuse themselves. Unreported abuse cannot be investigated.
4. Shame and Embarrassment May Hinder Abuse Reporting
Feelings of shame or discomfort can severely reduce the rates of abuse reporting. Particularly in the case of sexual abuse, victims may feel guilt or shame at the events that took place and not report what happened, even though the resident did nothing wrong. In the matter of financial abuse, residents may feel embarrassed that somebody took advantage of them against their will.
Ultimately, the negative emotions that surround abuse lower the likelihood of the abuse being reported.
5. Nursing Home Residents May Fear Retaliation
Speaking out against abuse is about more than the shame associated with it. The abusers are not only those staff charged with the care of the residents they abuse, but they are also the people the residents are in contact with the most. An abused senior will probably see their abuser every day. This only deepens the fear of retaliation for speaking up.
The abuse that is already taking place is distressing enough without the risk of antagonizing the abuser further. What if, an abused resident must ask themselves, the report of abuse takes too long to act upon? What if nothing changes for the better, and the resident has only angered their abuser further? Fears such as these make a topic that is hard to talk about harder still.
6. Medical Conditions Complicate Matters
In all probability, nursing home residents are already suffering from one or more medical ailments. Many of these conditions only serve to confuse matters. Seniors who suffer from dementia may already be agitated, and families might attribute agitation or unrest as side effects of their pre-existing condition and not as cries for help against abuse.
Those who struggle with balance and coordination might be prone to falling, allowing for easy explanations of bruises and other harm. In many cases, medical conditions allow for suspicious injuries or accusations to slip off an abuser like water off a duck’s back.
7. Nursing Homes Are Understaffed
Neglect as a form of abuse comes in many forms. Ultimately, though, it is a reduced quality of life that stems from inattentive or inadequate care. It is no secret that nursing homes are chronically under-funded and understaffed across the country. This workforce of underpaid and overworked staff is a vicious cycle that only increases the prevalence of neglect.
Many staff members simply don’t have the time they need to offer proper care, so cut corners and overlooked needs are not uncommon. To make things worse, with fewer staff with time on their hands, there are fewer potential witnesses and points of contact to report malicious abuse that may go on in addition to neglect – and a lack of personnel means that those unfortunate residents who are abused intentionally may have nobody else to turn to.
8. Nursing Homes Have Motive to Under-Report Abuse
As should be obvious by now, one of the biggest issues conflating the problem of nursing home abuse is its difficulty to detect and persistent under-reporting. Like many other medical institutions, nursing homes are, theoretically at least, subject to oversight bodies and inspections. No nursing home wants to harm its reputation or potential for outside financial assistance – so the motive to under-report abuse is very tangible.
Abuse comes in many forms and the biggest hurdle facing loved ones, family members, nursing home managers, and the seniors who are abused themselves, is one of detection. Abuse is wrapped up in a host of mixed emotions, and abusers know how to keep a low profile. Those they abuse, whether intentionally or by neglect, are some of society’s most vulnerable citizens, which only makes the abuse all the worse.
Therefore, families and loved ones must keep a watchful eye out for the signs of abuse, and be ready to act upon it should it be taking place. Nothing less will do when it comes to the care and wellbeing of our senior citizens.
Contact Cannon & Associates today for advice regarding elderly abuse and how you can respond decisively. You may fill out the form on this page or call us at (405) 657-2323.