Protecting Your Loved Ones from Elder Abuse
Those who have provided care for an elderly individual understand first-hand the trials associated with the role of senior citizen caregiver. Emotions felt by caregivers range wide and run deep as many now reverse roles with senior loved ones and assume the role of nurturer. This phase of life is no doubt new territory, and with that can come a plethora of questions regarding how to provide the best level of care.
If you happen to have an elderly family member in the care of a nurse or caregiver, you assume they are in good hands. Unfortunately, when a caregiver or other medical professional neglects to take the proper steps to ensure patient safety, the elderly can pay the price with their health and sometimes their lives. There are few things more devastating than the thought of our elderly loved ones being abused. Unfortunately, elder abuse does happen and it is far too common. Approximately one out of every 10 seniors experience some form of abuse.
Types of Elder Abuse
Abuse is not always physical, and all forms of abuse can greatly impact a person’s life in more ways than one. The following types of elder abuse are unfortunately prevalent for the aged and incapacitated adults reliant on caregivers:
- Physical Abuse: Physical abuse occurs when an abuser physically hurts a victim.
- Emotional Abuse: Emotional or psychological abuse occurs when caregivers verbally harm victims and/or use threatening language to coerce them into doing what they say. Abusers will refrain from using such language around victims’ loved ones.
- Financial Abuse: Financial abuse occurs when a victim’s possessions or money are stolen. This can involve stealing items from a home, a Social Security, pension, or retirement benefits, and unlawfully changing names on a will, insurance policy, or banking information. This abuse is not only illegal and hurts the victim, but it can also destroy a person’s legacy and wishes for their loved ones.
- Sexual Abuse: Sexual assault and abuse include forcing victims to watch or be a part of any sexual or lude act. These physical violations occur more often than we want to believe in nursing homes and extended care facilities. Victims are often under heavy medication and/or unable to physically speak out or stop the elder abuse.
- Neglect: Neglect is a common form of abuse that can be found rampant in nursing homes and can lead to serious medical illness or death. Caregivers who do not follow health and safety protocols with patients, including failing to change bed linens or clothing, hygiene issues, medical issues, and more, cause victims to suffer.
- Abandonment: Similar to neglect, caregivers who abandon patients put vulnerable lives at risk, especially those who depend on a caregiver for day-to-day life tasks.
- Healthcare: Elderly patients rely heavily on medical care, especially those with serious medical conditions. Abusers who steal victims’ prescriptions, withhold medicine, sell medicine, or knowingly administer incorrect medication dosages put their patients in danger of serious harm.
Signs and Symptoms of Elder Abuse
Now, more than ever, it is important to call and communicate with the elders in our lives. A simple checkup can save a life. Signs that could indicate elder abuse include but are not limited to:
- Sudden or drastic weight loss/gain
- Unexplained bruises, burns, or scarring
- Displays of traumatic responses (e.g., rocking back and forth)
- Withdrawn behavior
- Agitated, irritated, or angry behavior
- Disheveled appearance
- Lack of hygiene
- Trouble sleeping
- Depression and/or anxiety
Are Emergency Rooms Missing the Signs of Elder Abuse?
Despite the commonality of elder abuse, emergency rooms formally diagnose abuse in senior patients in very few cases each year, which has left many wondering if emergency rooms are missing the signs of abuse. At least one study revealed emergency room doctors only diagnose elder abuse in one out of 7,700 visits by aged patients.
Because many victims of elder abuse are far removed from their loved ones, emergency room doctors play a crucial role in identifying and stopping the abuse. Unfortunately, with more than 23 million emergency room visits from seniors each year, emergency room doctors may not be up to the task of identifying abuse in senior patients.
Why Do Emergency Room Doctors Miss Elder Abuse?
Doctors often attribute common signs of elder abuse to old age. Because elderly patients are usually frail and/or suffer from mental health conditions, doctors might blame unusual bruises on falls or other common accidents. However, some signs of abuse cannot be mistaken for simple accidents and so doctors must take the time to evaluate each patient carefully.
While the source of bruising might be difficult for a doctor to identify, there are other telltale signs of elder abuse to look out for. If the caretaker of an elderly patient refuses to leave the patient’s side, or if the elderly patient seems timid around the caretaker, it could indicate an abusive relationship.
Other signs of elder abuse can include frequent visits to the emergency room for bruises, abrasions, and broken bones. While everyone has accidents, frequent visits could mean physical abuse is taking place.
How To Keep the Elderly Safe
It no longer breaking news that we are living in unprecedented times. For elderly citizens, the high risks associated with COVID-19 coupled with their age tend to make the illness twice as impactful. It is time for younger generations to provide support and protect seniors.
Lend a Helping Hand
Younger generations can greatly impact the health and quality of life of seniors by actively engaging with them. Communication is important and older children and young adults can help their elderly loved ones and neighbors by simply calling to check on them and see if they need assistance with essential errands. By doing so, not only is mental anguish lifted, but it can help seniors get removed from situations that could cause them further harm.
Maintain Essential Documents
When caring for the elderly, it is important to make sure all essential documents, such as insurance information, wills, and other estate planning documents, etc., are organized and in good standing. Protecting your elderly relative’s legacy so they are assured their estate will provide for their loved ones not only affords them a great sense of relief but the documents associated therewith will enable the designated parties to take necessary steps to further protect their health and assets as needed.
Keep Caregivers Accountable
Unfortunately, nursing home abuse is more common than people realize. While many have heard horror stories about the lack of care and cruelty taking place in nursing homes across the country, limited action has been taken to protect seniors and eliminate widespread abuse. Nursing homes knowingly endanger seniors by failing to timely provide proper medical treatment. It is not uncommon for these same nursing homes to also cause residents’ illnesses, such as poor hygiene leading to infection. Nursing homes have a responsibility to treat all persons – but especially their residents – with dignity and respect. Under no circumstances should a nursing home resident ever be physically, mentally, verbally, or sexually abused by caregivers.
Increase In Reported Elder Abuse in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Department of Health has reported an increase in elder abuse cases. Roughly a decade ago, investigators estimated 159 elder abuse cases were reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Health each year. In recent years, however, the number has increased more than six-fold to 1,018 cases. In addition, there were more than 4,200 suspected cases reported in 2017, a nearly 45 percent overall increase in elder abuse cases since 2008.
Though agency regulations help caregivers by providing basic information to the public, the Pennsylvania Department of Health believes this increase is due to greater awareness of elder abuse since it’s in the news and people are watching and seeing that they can make these complaints. The Health Department had even halted anonymous complaints for nearly three years even though federal law requires it to accept them. Since reinstating anonymous complaints in 2015, elder abuse reporting has steadily risen.
How To Respond to Elder Abuse
Handling elder abuse can be extremely difficult for a family because there are many emotions involved; however, to best help your loved one, it is important to know how to respond. For people being abused by their caregivers, it can be difficult to speak out. They may be afraid of retaliation by the caregiver, so family members need to address these concerns. When responding to elder abuse, family members should follow these guidelines:
- Show you care. Your loved one might not be ready to talk about the abuse, but letting them know you are concerned can help encourage them to report the abuse.
- Open lines of communication. Oftentimes the individual committing elder abuse isolates the victim from family and friends. Make sure your loved one always has a way to contact you and that you visit them in person as often as possible.
- Lend an ear. When your loved one is ready to talk about the abuse, listen patiently. It is important that they feel they are being heard.
- Remove them from the situation. Once a loved one is ready to report abuse, it is important to remove the control of the caregiver.
- Report the abuse to the authorities. You can report abuse to your local police department and/or report it to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.
- Don’t wait to contact an attorney. To best protect your loved one, you will need the help of an experienced Philadelphia elder abuse lawyer.
Philadelphia Elder Abuse Attorneys
Senior citizens are integral to society as we have much to learn from past generations. All elderly patients deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their age or vulnerability. It is a horrible reality that every day seniors are victimized and taken advantage of by those we trust to care for them. If you or a loved one has been a victim of elder abuse, please contact us for more information on how we can help.