According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, elder abuse is defined as, “any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to an older person.” The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living broadens that definition by stating elder abuse is “a term referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.”
Types of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse is not constrained to just one type of harm, such as physical harm like bruises or abrasions. In fact, there are multiple types of elder abuse, and many of them are far more common than you might assume. The following are all types of elder abuse that can and do occur in nursing homes and care facilities across the US on a regular basis:
- Physical Abuse: Hitting, choking, pinching, biting, slapping or chemical or physical restraints applied to a senior.
- Sexual Abuse: Any non-consensual sexual contact, including everything from inappropriate touching to actual penetration.
- Neglect: A failure by caregivers to provide medications, medical treatment, food, shelter, clothing, mobility devices and more.
- Financial Abuse: Theft of money, credit cards, bank account information and more, as well as intimidation toward the elderly person to provide money or financial information.
- Emotional Abuse: The inflicting of distress, pain, mental anguish and another discomfort through verbal or nonverbal acts, including threats, intimidation, humiliation, physical punishment, being restrained and more.
- Psychological Abuse: Very similar to emotional abuse, and often used in conjunction with physical, sexual or financial abuse situations.
- Resident to Resident Abuse: Neglect in a situation where one resident is violent (physically, verbally or mentally) to another resident.
How to Prevent Elder Abuse
Preventing elder abuse requires that you be attentive and watchful where the health and wellbeing of your loved one are concerned. Understand that no facility is 100% safe from these crimes, and up to 30% of nursing homes in the US have had abuse lawsuits filed against them. According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, up to 550,000+ elderly citizens in the US are subject to some form of abuse in nursing homes and care facilities every single year.
The most important thing for loved ones to know is how to identify signs of elder abuse. Some of these include the following:
- Physical Marks: Watch for new bruises, cuts, abrasions, burns and the like to show up. While these are not always signs of physical abuse, they can be indications of it.
- Arguments or Lack of Communication: Another sign to watch for is if your loved one is particularly argumentative with a particular caregiver, or “goes quiet” when a particular caregiver is nearby.
- Financial Changes: If you notice sudden financial changes, such as new charges on credit cards, bank account balances dropping, changes to the will and the like, it is a good sign of financial abuse.
- Sexual Abuse Signs: Watch for bruising around the breasts on female residents, as well as infections and possibly sexually transmitted diseases as a sign of sexual abuse for residents of nursing homes and care facilities.
- Sores and Worsening Conditions: Signs of neglect can include the appearance of bedsores, or worsening bedsores, as well as poor hygiene, a lack of medication, and sudden weight loss.
- Depression and Anxiety: Depression, anxiety and withdrawal from activities the person previously enjoyed are all signs of emotional abuse.
What to Do If You Suspect Elder Abuse Is Occurring
Whether you suspect physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect or some other form of elder abuse, it is crucial that you take action. Do not confront the caregiver you suspect, and do not approach the facility’s management. Instead, call your state’s elder abuse hotline, and then contact an elder abuse attorney. You’ll have the chance to discuss the situation with someone who has significant experience in this area and learn more about what should be done next to protect and safeguard your loved one from this horrifying threat.