Nursing homes are largely perceived in a negative light by our culture, and while generally speaking, they can be assets to older adults who are no longer able to take care of themselves, the stigma associated with third-party caregiving facilities is not entirely unearned. Elder abuse is not strictly a problem associated with nursing homes, however, it can occur in any setting where a person has power over an older adult, including retirement communities and at-home caregiver settings. But it is prevalent in caregiving facilities, especially those that don’t have the proper mechanisms to ensure that employees don’t mistreat patients.
There will always be a risk inherent in allowing someone you don’t know to care for your family members. Abusers will seek out any position where they can have power over others, and with approximately 1 in 6 people over 60 experiencing a form of elder abuse and 2 out of 3 nursing staff fessing up to committing abuse, it’s likely your loved one may experience it. This doesn’t mean that you should reconsider putting your loved one in a home, especially if a particular nursing facility can provide the care they need. But it does mean that you should be educated on the different forms elder abuse can take, so you can recognize them in the moment and take appropriate action.
Here’s a brief guide to the different forms of elder abuse. If you suspect your loved one is suffering as a result of any of these, pull them out of that environment and take legal action. Holding abusers accountable will keep others from suffering the same way your family member did.
This is perhaps the most clear-cut and easily recognizable form of abuse, the thing that most people probably think of when they hear the term elder abuse. Physical abuse is the intentional use of physical force on an older adult, and the signs of it can range from burns and broken bones to repeated “accidents” without reasonable explanation. It can be difficult to differentiate between intentional use of force and negligence on the part of healthcare providers after the fact, so be sure to listen to your loved one. If you notice signs of fear on their part toward a particular employee, or if you notice they’re put in different hospitals for the same “accidents,” investigate further.
Enough said. But it’s important to acknowledge that this happens, especially to patients who are unable to consent, like patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Possible signs of sexual abuse include bruised or bleeding genitals, STD’s, withdrawal from social activities, depression, suicide attempts, and torn undergarments.
This can be a more subtle form of abuse with signs that are harder to detect, as it involves the degradation or dehumanization of patients and leaves few physical symptoms, instead inflicting psychological trauma on sufferers. Psychological abuse can be defined as any intentional action meant to cause distress to an older adult and includes insulting them, acts intended to humiliate them, barring them from resources, and the like. If you notice that your elder is isolating themselves, experiencing mood swings or depression, that they appear frightened frequently, or that their eating and sleeping patterns have changed, don’t be afraid to look into this.
This form of abuse involves an authoritative party taking undue advantage of their charge’s resources. If you notice a pattern of unusual payments on your loved one’s bank account, that their belongings seem to keep getting lost, or that they seem unaware of the state of their finances, they may be being manipulated financially.
Neglect – Not an Honest-To-Goodness Accident
Neglect can be defined as an avoidable failure to meet the needs of an older adult, one that results in severe harm or distress. While accidents can happen in the most prepared and careful settings, neglect is not an accident – it is a purposeful lack of care on the caregiver’s part, and the effects and damage neglect can inflict on sufferers can range wildly. Neglect can include failure on the caregiver’s part to provide adequate resources or facilities, maintain an older adult’s hygiene, ensure they get the nutrition and sustenance they need, or just a flat-out failure to protect them from injury.
An Insidious, Quiet Enemy
It’s impossible to catch elder abuse until it happens, and it can be difficult even then as most abusers don’t commit their crimes where many can bear witness. But if you know the signs of the different forms of elder abuse, you’ll be better prepared to catch and adequately respond to elder abuse when it occurs, getting your loved one out of a harmful environment and making sure others know – here there be monsters.