As of July 2015, the number of senior citizens in the US reached 47.8 million, representing 14.9 percent of the total population. By the year 2060, the population of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to double, exceeding 98 million people and comprising nearly 24 percent of the nation’s population. And while Americans are living longer and waiting longer to retire, they’re also at higher risk for developing chronic conditions. In fact, approximately 91 percent of older adults were living with one or more chronic illnesses in 2005.
Not surprisingly, admissions to skilled nursing facilities and other senior care centers have increased in recent years. In 2014, approximately 1.4 million Americans were living in nursing homes. That same year, one study estimated that approximately 58 percent of women and 44 percent of men will require nursing home care at or after age 65. What’s more, the average senior will require some type of long-term care for roughly three years.
For many families, the financial burden and emotional toll associated with moving a loved one into a senior living facility may seem like the most challenging aspects. But unfortunately, that may not be the toughest part. More than likely, you’ll choose to move a parent or relative into a senior living center to ensure they’re safe and happy. However, not all nursing homes are created equal. Instead of taking good care of your loved one, it’s possible that staff members could mistreat vulnerable residents and cause them harm due to negligence or even purposeful abuse.
The signs of nursing home abuse
Shockingly, statistics show that anywhere from 1 to 2 million senior citizens in the US have been exploited, mistreated, or injured by a caregiver. Worse yet, only one in every 14 incidents of this nature that occur in domestic settings are ever reported to law enforcement. Although the majority of these cases are committed by family members, they can absolutely happen in senior care facilities as well. From 1999 to 2001, nearly one-third of all nursing home facilities were cited for violating federal standards that could or did cause harm to elderly residents. Astoundingly, more than 40 percent of nursing home residents have reported abuse and up to 90 percent say that they or other members of their living facility have been neglected.
There are various risk factors for elder abuse, including a low level of social support, cognitive decline and dementia development, prior instances of traumatic events, poor physical health, gender and race, and lower income levels. But the truth is that just about any senior can become a victim of nursing home abuse. These seniors may also be abused physically, psychologically, sexually, financially, and emotionally—which can make it especially difficult for loved ones to assess when their parent or other family member may need help. That said, the indicators of elder abuse may include:
- Bruises, burns, sores, abrasions, scars, welts, or broken bones
- Poor hygiene, soiled clothing, or weather-inappropriate clothing
- Failure to take medication or unattended medical needs
- Unexplained weight loss or signs of dehydration
- Unusual behaviors (e.g., self-soothing, mumbling)
- Frequent arguments or threatening/belittling behaviors from caregivers
- Symptoms of emotional withdrawal, isolation, or depression
- Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
- Unsafe or unsanitary living conditions
- Sudden financial changes or unexplained bank withdrawals/missing money
- Unexpected hospitalizations or frequent, unreported illnesses
- Unexplained changes in mental ability or consciousness
- Fear or avoidance of staff members or other caregivers
What to do if you suspect elder abuse
The signs outlined above may not always indicate an abusive situation, nor are the signs of elder abuse limited to the aforementioned indicators. However, if you suspect your loved one is being abused or neglected by the very people who have been charged with their care and well-being, there are some steps you can take to help.
After ensuring your loved one is not in any immediate danger, you should remain calm and talk to them about what he or she may have experienced. Keep in mind that your parent may be reluctant to discuss any incidents that may have occurred out of shame or fear. It’s also possible that the nursing home staff may not be in the wrong. If your parent is experiencing some kind of cognitive decline, there’s potential that their actions may have been necessary or could have been misconstrued. That’s why you’ll need to discuss the incident(s) with the nursing home administrators before taking further action.
Your loved one has several rights as a nursing home resident, and if any of those rights were violated or you don’t feel satisfied with the administration’s response, it may be appropriate to take things further. To do this, you will need to make a formal complaint to the appropriate state agency. You may also need to contact local law enforcement, especially if there are clear signs of abuse. Be sure to meticulously document every detail. You will then want to contact personal injury lawyers with experience in elder abuse cases. If your loved one has endured physical or emotional harm as a result of this negligence, you may be able to file a lawsuit to recover damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and more.
Although one would hope your family member will never endure such an abusive situation, it’s imperative to take swift action if you suspect nursing home neglect has occurred. The sooner you investigate, the more likely it will be that your loved one can be safeguarded from future harm.