Seniors are an incredibly vulnerable subset of the population, as they may suffer from physical or cognitive impairments that require specialized care; at the same time, this raises their risk of abuse from caregivers, and they may not be believed should they speak out. And sadly, abuse by those meant to protect the vulnerable is very common, both from relatives and from paid caretakers: it’s estimated that over 10% of all senior citizens have experienced some form of abuse, and the real number may be far higher. Those in nursing homes are at even greater risk, especially as over 50% of all nursing home staff have admitted to harming at least one resident.
Abuse in care facilities can take a variety of forms, and it’s not always easy to determine if a resident has been victimized; this is especially true because abusive staff may target those individuals least likely to speak out, particularly those with dementia or other cognitive impairments. While unexplained bruising and bone fractures can make it very clear that there are serious concerns, other issues are not so obvious. This article will review several more insidious forms of abuse in nursing homes, including emotional abuse, financial abuse, and neglect, as well as what to do should you suspect abuse in a nursing facility.
Emotional abuse can lead to behavioral changes in targeted residents
Far from being isolated to intimate relationships, this type of non-physical violence can also occur in care settings between staff and residents. Emotional abuse includes intimidation, manipulation, humiliation, and isolation; it is meant to break down a person’s psyche and self-esteem over a long period of time. In a nursing home, staff may lash out due to understaffing and burnout, or they may simply have a power complex that makes them abuse vulnerable individuals. Those being emotionally abused may become withdrawn and isolated, or they may grow fearful and aggressive. Anxiety and vague physical complaints like headaches or stomach aches may also be present.
Financial abuse can lead to ruin for vulnerable senior citizens
It’s not uncommon for elderly individuals to deputize a person or institution as a financial decision-maker, especially if they are in a facility; this is meant to ensure that someone pays their bills and manages their accounts if they are no longer capable of doing so themselves. However, this can be misused by unscrupulous individuals, who may siphon money from a nursing home resident’s bank account for their own use. Depending on how careful the perpetrator is, this behavior can go on for years undetected, only to be exposed when someone else takes a look at the senior citizen’s accounts. Signs of this form of abuse include suspicious charges, unexpected withdrawals, changes to wills or power of attorney, and missing valuables from a resident’s private space.
Neglect is pervasive and often caused by institutional pressures
Lastly, neglect is an enormous problem throughout nursing facilities, exacerbated by understaffing and poor wages. With too many residents and not enough staff, those charged with caring for the elderly may find themselves having to make difficult decisions about who to prioritize, which can leave others without the care they need to thrive. For example, staff may be attending to those with the most severe needs, unable to assist someone with mobility issues in transferring from a wheelchair to bed; this could cause the unaided person to fall and severely injure themselves, diminishing their quality of life.
Other problems caused by neglect can include bed sores from leaving individuals prone for too long, infections from soiled bedding or poor hygiene, bruises and burns from residents trying to move or feed themselves without supervision, and poorly managed medical conditions.
If you suspect abuse in a care setting, you should contact the authorities and a lawyer
Medical professionals are mandated reporters, so you are obligated to report any signs of abuse to the authorities; you should receive instructions on how to do so during your training or residency, and your university or workplace should have numbers for appropriate authorities on hand.
In addition to this, you should encourage the family of the abused individual to contact a qualified nursing home injury law firm to file a civil complaint against the nursing home. Not only will this hold the facility accountable for neglect, but it may also force changes in policies that might not be required by licensing facilities, such as improved staffing ratios or better oversight.
According to a nursing home injury expert, nursing home neglect and abuse claims are on the rise, which is why it’s important to approach it from several angles to ensure that each resident is allowed to live their life with dignity and respect. Licensing agencies, medical associations, staff, and family members of residents are all participants in safeguarding the rights of the elderly – and anyone aware of abuse is legally and morally obligated to speak out and ensure that the culture changes.