It’s incredibly difficult to come to terms with the fact that someone you love is being abused or mistreated – especially in an environment where you believed they were safe. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 500,000 adults over the age of 60 are abused every year. While many of these cases happen in nursing homes or other treatment centers; other older adults are being mistreated in their own homes.
The legal definitions of elder abuse differ by states, but most agree on a few key characteristics including neglect and abuse. Here are a few warning signs of these key characteristics of elder abuse:
- Neglect – lack of adequate food, shelter, medication or supervision
- Financial Exploitation – unexplained loss of assets; discrepancies between the standard of living and assets available; missing personal items
- Physical Abuse – unexplainable injuries or bruises; overuse of medication without doctor’s consent
- Emotional Abuse – withdrawal and refusal to see friends or family, fearful behavior and anxiety
- Sexual Abuse – genital bleeding and injuries; development of sexually transmitted diseases
- Abandonment – lack of proper treatment; horrific living conditions
While the statistics surrounding elder abuse are harrowing, there are legal ramifications to these actions. When abuse or neglect occurs in a nursing home, it breaks federal and state laws created to protect all residents. For example, most nursing homes comply with the Nursing Home Reform Act which requires:
- Periodic assessments
- Comprehensive care plans
- Nursing, rehabilitation, pharmaceutical, dietary and social services
- Sufficient staffing
Failure to comply with any of these requirements can result in legal consequences such as forced operating changes, loss of funding, fines and license suspension. Since many nursing homes are run by corporations, a negligence lawsuit can instantly get the owner’s attention and force positive changes to benefit everyone living at the facility.
More individualized abuse cases may be harder to prove; especially since a majority of these cases are never reported due to fear of retribution from the abuser. If you suspect your loved one has fallen prey to elder abuse, ensure that you ask targeted questions, check finances and look for suspicious circumstances during each visit. You can also speak with other residents or staff members at the facility to see if there’s a simple resolution. If not, report your suspicions to your state’s department of health or ombudsman’s office. Once the case has been reported, you will have the option to contact a private attorney.
Elder abuse is a consistent problem throughout the country because most victims are too afraid to speak up. If you believe you or someone you love has been victimized, you should immediately seek help or legal counsel. Pay attention to the red flags and don’t be afraid to contact law enforcement or an attorney.