According to the National Council on Aging, an estimated 5 million elderly individuals are victims of either abuse or neglect each year. While nursing home abuse and neglect are both terrible crimes perpetrated against some of the most helpless in our society, they are not the same. And if you suspect that an elderly individual you know is the victim of either abuse or neglect, you will want to understand the difference between the two.
Elder neglect can be defined as the failure to fulfill a caretaking obligation, whether that failure is intentional or not. Some forms of neglect occur because those responsible do not believe (or are in denial) that the elderly individual needs that level of care. In other cases, it could just be ignorance about the needs of the elderly individual being cared for. Regardless of the reason behind the neglect, it is inexcusable under the law to neglect to provide proper care for an elderly individual for which someone is responsible. This is true not just for individual caretakers, but for facilities that provide care such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or physical rehabilitation centers.
Elder abuse is more intentional that elder neglect, and can take multiple forms, including physical, emotional, financial, and sexual. The physical abuse of the elderly involves non-accidental use of force against an elderly person that causes an injury, impairment, or physical pain. That force is not limited to being hit, slapped, or shoved. Force can also include restraints (to keep someone in a wheelchair or in a bed), confinement (locking someone in a room), or giving an elderly person drugs to make them easier to manage. These are all classified as forms of elder abuse and are not considered acceptable treatment.
The emotional abuse of the elderly will not leave bruises like being shoved or restrained, but the pain inflicted is just as real. Emotional abuse is defined as treating an elderly person in a way that results in emotional or psychological distress or pain. This type of abuse can take many different chilling forms, including ridicule, humiliation, threats, scapegoating, and intimidation through threats and yelling. Intentionally isolating an elderly person from their friends or activities they enjoy is also considered a form of elder abuse, and so is intentionally ignoring an elderly person. Any form of menacing or terrorizing is emotional abuse of the elderly.
Financial exploitation of the elderly is another form of elder abuse and it is defined as the unauthorized use of their funds or their property. This can be committed by caregivers or scam artists. Included under the heading of financial exploitation are the following:
- Stealing their cash, household goods, or income checks
- Forging their signature
- Misusing their personal checks, accounts, or credit cards
- Stealing their identity
- Encouraging them to donate to a phony charity
As much as we hate to think about it, sexual abuse of the elderly also happens. This involves contact without their consent and is not limited to physical sex acts. It can also include forcing them to watch sex acts, look at pornographic material against their will, or to undress.
Signs of Elder Abuse and Neglect in Nursing Homes
We place our loved ones in the care of a nursing home or assisted living facility while trusting that they will be well cared for, but unfortunately that is not always the case. Abuse and neglect do occur in care facilities across the nation. Signs of neglect include bedsores, skin cuts or tears that are not being treated, extreme body odor, repeated falls, unchanged diapers, frequent infections, unwashed hair, dehydration, and sudden loss in weight. Fall hazards (wet floors, walking aids left on the other side of the room, cords strung across the floor), clothing inappropriate for the weather, bad lighting, and unsafe chairs are other indicators of neglect.
Signs of abuse may include bruises, lacerations or skin tears on the arms, unexplained injuries, restraints on a chair or bed, signs of fear or distress, broken glasses, reports of drug overdoses, missing items (including cash, jewelry, perfume), or the sudden onset of behavior that is out of character (being withdrawn, dementia symptoms in a normally functioning individual, rocking back and forth). Another sign of elder abuse is the refusal of a caregiver to allow you to talk alone with the elderly individual. Sexual abuse is evidenced by bruises, tearing, or bleeding around the genitals, breasts, or anal area, or clothing that is torn, bloody, or stained.
Abuse and neglect of the elderly, especially in a nursing home or care facility, is much more widespread than many realize. Understanding the difference between abuse and neglect and knowing the signs to watch for are excellent first steps in protecting those you love and care about. Mistreatment of the elderly is neither ethically nor legally acceptable, and there are times when we must take action on behalf of those who can no longer defend themselves or be heard when they try to speak up.
Donaghue & Labrum
At Donaghue & Labrum, we have over twenty-five years of experience in personal injury claims, including nursing home abuse and neglect. Whether it is a case of medical malpractice in a nursing home environment, neglect that has led to repeated falls or bedsores, or outright elder abuse, we can help. Allow Donaghue & Labrum to defend the rights of those you love and make sure that they are duly compensated according to the law. Contact us today for a free consultation!