Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes - Keston Law - Wilmington, NC
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Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes

Posted May 7, 2019 by Joan Keston

Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes

What It Is and How to Spot It

According to the National Council on Aging, 10 percent of Americans over the age of 60 experience some form of elder abuse. Yet, only about 1 in 14 cases of abuse are actually reported. Accordingly, the problem of elder abuse in our society is oftentimes a hidden, but tragic, reality for many seniors in long-term elder care facilities.

What is paramount is that vulnerable and/or defenseless seniors get the protection they deserve as soon as possible. To do that, you may need legal representation to help you ensure the safety of your loved one, and to exact consequences on those responsible for the abuse.

This page will discuss some of the most important issues surrounding the problem of elder abuse – what it is, how to spot it, and how to stop it.

What Is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse typically falls into two distinct categories: Abuse and Neglect.

  • Abuse Simply put, abuse is treating a person in a cruel or violent way with the intent to cause harm. The kind of harm that can result can be either physical or psychological, or both. Here are few examples of the things that would be considered elder abuse:
    • Assault and battery. All forms of unwanted or harmful physical contact typically will be considered assault and battery. Such contact could be striking, pinching, shoving, or pushing. This type of obvious abuse may be easier to identify because of visible markers resulting from the abuse.
    • Unwanted sexual contact. Any type of non-consensual contact, from touching and groping to something as serious as rape will clearly fall under the rubric of elder abuse. What is important to note here is that those wishing to harm elders may see an opportunity based on the particular vulnerability of a senior, especially if the senior suffers from diminished mental capacity.
    • Restraints. Elder abuse need not take the form of battery. Restraining a person to his or her bed with actual physical restraints or through the use of medications, can also be grounds for a finding of abuse.
    • Deprivation of food or water. Depriving a person of basic sustenance is also abuse. Even a short-term deprivation of food or water could have devastating impacts on a senior. Worse yet, that type of abuse may be harder to detect right away.
    • Verbal. Physical contact is not always necessary for something to constitute abuse. Threats, intimidation, and insults are also forms of elder abuse. They can be incredibly harmful to the psyche of a senior who relies on the care of a long-term facility.
  • Neglect In contrast to the overt conduct related to abuse, neglect is the failure to provide care and/or the failure to meet the standards of reasonable care. Neglect sometimes involves conduct in which there is no intent to cause harm, but it may be no less dangerous for a senior in a long-term care facility. Neglect can fall into several types including, but not limited to, the following:
    • Asphyxiation. Particularly for patients with limited mobility, excess bedding or soft items near the bed can pose a respiratory hazard.
    • Bedsores. Also called pressure ulcers, bedsores occur when a bedridden patient has been resting in one position for too long without being moved. What happens is that the underlying tissues between the skin and bone do not receive adequate blood supply, and the skin begins to break down. Easily treatable in the early stages, bedsores that are not treated early eventually involve impairment of the muscle or bone beneath the skin.
    • Falls and other injuries. Accidents happen to everyone, but falls carry an increased risk of broken bones for the elderly. Failing to adequately support a patient when moving him or her from a bed to a wheelchair or over an elevation change, or when allowing an unsteady patient to move on his or her own invites the risk of injury. Falls and bumps can cause fractures, breaks, bruising, and lacerations. Indeed, such injuries can be as harmful as those resulting from direct abuse.
    • Incorrect medications. When dispensing medications, there is always the possibility of the caregiver mistakenly giving one patient the medication meant for another, the wrong dose, or the right dose at the wrong time. This can also occur if there is an issue with a machine that automatically dispenses the medication, and the issue was overlooked by a technician.
    • Infection. General infection among the population of a nursing home can result due to the failure of the staff to properly isolate a sick patient from the rest of the population, or by failing to ensure a sanitary environment.
    • Lack of security. Finally, poor or negligent security can lead to harm from outside third parties coming into the facility with nefarious motives, or elderly patients who require supervision wandering outside without a caregiver.

How Can You Spot Elder Abuse?

Identifying elder abuse can be difficult. Yet, being attentive and aware when spending time with a loved one will allow you the opportunity to watch for certain tell-tale signs and signals. Here is a list of some things to watch out for:

  • Loss of appetite,
  • Stains on clothing,
  • Sores on body parts,
  • Withdrawn affect,
  • Depression,
  • Anxiety,
  • Missing funds from a senior’s bank account

Also, family and friends should be attentive and aware of any sudden changes in a loved one’s speech or behavior, especially if they become withdrawn or display a fear of being touched. Of course, if a conversation about a loved one’s circumstances is possible, you should consider asking about your loved one’s satisfaction with the facility, direct caregivers, and health.