Elder abuse is frighteningly common in nursing homes and other care facilities today. In fact, 30% of US nursing homes have been cited for some elder abuse. Between 1999 and 2001, there were a documented 9,000 instances of nursing home abuse in the US, and that number has only climbed over the years. However, most cases of abuse go unreported, either because an elderly person has no loved ones or friends to check on their condition or their loved ones miss the signs of abuse and are not aware of the many types of abuse that occur on such a horrifying basis.
The most common type of abuse in US nursing homes is physical abuse, with up to 29% of complaints filed regarding this (25% in board and care facilities). Physical abuse can include hitting, biting, scratching or other forms of physical attack from caregivers and other staff members, but it can also include many others. These can and do lead to a wide range of injuries, as well, including:
- Skin lacerations
- Broken bones
- Injuries sustained from a fall after being physically struck
- Mental anguish
Emotional abuse is much harder to notice than physical abuse. Often, it stems from callous, uncaring staff members who speak to residents cruelly. Degrading language, verbal threats to make elders more compliant, or to cover up evidence of other forms of abuse are all common. Signs of emotional abuse in an elderly individual include:
- Mood swings
- Anxiety/fearfulness, particularly around staff members
- Lack of communication/quieter than usual
- Low self-esteem
- Attempting to harm themselves or others
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Changes in personal grooming habits
It’s important to note that many of these symptoms are similar to those resulting from the normal aging process, as well as from many medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, which makes it difficult to determine if mental abuse is occurring.
Psychological abuse of seniors is very similar to mental abuse, and often goes hand in hand with both mental and physical abuse. One of the most common instances is using psychological abuse to get a patient to do something the caregiver or staffer wants them to do, or to make them quieter or less talkative. A patient may be intimidated into not telling a loved one about other forms of abuse, for instance.
A frightening number of seniors are subject to sexual abuse within nursing homes. In one reported incident, a male staffer was found guilty of sexually assaulting a female patient while bathing her. There are many other ways this can occur, though. Female residents are far more likely to experience sexual abuse than are male residents (six times more likely). However, only about 30% of elderly people who experience sexual abuse will actually report it, so it is vital that loved ones pay close attention to changes in behavior, signs of assault like broken bones or pelvic infections and the like.
Financial exploitation is a form of abuse, and is becoming more and more common within nursing homes and care centers across the US. A caregiver might forge checks from the person’s account, or might steal money from their wallet or purse. Theft of credit and debit cards is also common. Other forms of financial exploitation include forcing them to change their will and theft of physical property.
Resident to Resident Abuse
In some instances, the abuse experienced by elderly patients within nursing homes is from another resident. Sometimes, this is due to neglect on the part of staff members, but in others, it is actually encouraged by the staff. In one publicized incident, staff members bribed a mentally ill resident with cigarettes to attack another resident, and then watched the ensuing fight.
What to Do If You Suspect Elder Abuse
If you suspect that your loved one is the victim of any type of abuse, be it physical, emotional, sexual, financial or something else, it is imperative to call your state’s elder abuse hotline. You should also contact an experienced elder abuse attorney and speak with them about your case and what your next steps should be.