Nearly two million Americans live in long-term care facilities, and abuse and neglect against the elderly are a growing national concern. In Wisconsin, statutes defining elder abuse include physical, emotional, financial, or sexual abuse/assault. This abuse can happen in one's home or in an institutional setting such as a nursing home by any number of individuals.
Many victims are unable to report abuse and neglect because of their mental state, because they are too weak or because they are afraid of retaliation. In fact, one national study found that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are ever reported.
Elder abuse and neglect can result in both physical and mental injuries. In many cases, nursing home injuries are preventable and are the result, in whole or in part, of specific abuse or neglect.
At first, you might not recognize or take seriously signs of elder abuse. They may appear to be symptoms of dementia or signs of the elderly person’s frailty — or caregivers may explain them to you that way. In fact, many of the signs and symptoms of elder abuse do overlap with symptoms of mental deterioration, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss them on the caregiver’s say-so.
In 2013, after years of complaints at a Georgia nursing home, 21 staff members were arrested and charged with 70 counts of elder abuse ranging from assault and battery to criminal neglect. Also in 2013, a West Virginia court upheld a $91.5 million verdict against one nursing home whose abuse led to the death of a resident.
Knowing what to watch for and ask can be key in helping to uncover abuse. Here are some warning signs to be aware of:
▪ Unexplained signs of injury such as bruises, welts, or scars, especially if they appear symmetrically on two side of the body
▪ Broken bones, sprains, or dislocations
▪ Report of drug overdose or apparent failure to take medication regularly (a prescription has more remaining than it should)
▪ Broken eyeglasses or frames
▪ Signs of being restrained, such as rope marks on wrists
▪ Caregiver’s refusal to allow you to see the elder alone
▪ Threatening, belittling, or controlling caregiver behavior that you witness
▪ Behavior from the elder that mimics dementia, such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling to oneself
▪ Unusual weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration or other untreated physical problems
▪ Being left dirty, unbathed or in unsanitary, unsafe living conditions
▪ Unsuitable clothing or covering for the weather
▪ Desertion of the elder at a public place
▪ Significant withdrawals from the elder’s accounts
▪ Sudden changes in the elder’s financial condition or missing items/cash
▪ Suspicious changes in wills, power of attorney, titles, and policies
▪ Addition of names to the senior’s signature card
▪ Unpaid bills or lack of medical care, although the elder has enough money to pay for them
▪ Financial activity the senior couldn’t have done, such as an ATM withdrawal when the account holder is bedridden
▪ Unnecessary services, goods, or subscriptions
▪ Duplicate billings for the same medical service or device
▪ Evidence of overmedication or undermedication
▪ Evidence of inadequate care when bills are paid in full
▪ Problems with the care facility: poorly trained, poorly paid, or insufficient staff; crowding; inadequate responses to questions about care
Many nonprofessional caregivers — spouses, adult children, other relatives and friends — find taking care of an elder to be satisfying and enriching. But the responsibilities and demands of elder caregiving, which escalate as the elder’s condition deteriorates, can also be extremely stressful and lead to abusive actions.
Preventing elder abuse means doing three things:
▪ Listening to seniors and their caregivers
▪ Intervening when you suspect elder abuse
▪ Educating others about how to recognize and report elder abuse
If you suspect elder or nursing home abuse, make sure to document and immediately report the matter to the proper authorities. Filing a lawsuit against the nursing home and/or its staff may also be an option. Investigating nursing home and elder abuse cases requires thorough understanding of medical practices, regulations and senior health issues. With over 40 years of litigation and experience in personal injury, civil and criminal law, LeBell, Dobroski, Morgan & Meylink will protect the rights of you and your family.