How to Recognize and Report Signs of Elder Abuse
When a family member or loved one is in the care of another person, there is an expectation that he or she will be cared for properly and will be treated with respect. But unfortunately, elder abuse can occur, and it is one of the most common and tragic issues facing senior adults.
Abuse can vary in form, ranging from financial to physical, and can leave families with a plethora of issues. Knowing who is most at risk and how to recognize and report signs of elder abuse can be critical to protecting your loved ones.
Signs of Elder Abuse
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, a combination of psychological, social and economic factors, along with the mental and physical conditions of the victim as well as the perpetrator, contribute to the occurrence of elder maltreatment. However, elderly adults who suffer from dementia or other psychological issues are thought to be at greater risk of abuse and neglect than those of the general elderly population.
Detecting signs of abuse early can help spare your loved one from unnecessary pain and anguish and can help them get the care they need. You should know what to look for, how to document it, and most importantly, how to report it. Because the forms of abuse can vary, so can the signs.
Below are some things to consider if you suspect your family member or loved one has been mistreated:
The NCEA defines emotional abuse as the infliction of anguish, distress or pain through verbal or nonverbal acts. This type of psychological abuse could include: assaults, belittling, harassment, humiliation, intimidation and threats. Signs could include significant changes in behavior, fear of a caregiver, lack of interest, or being withdrawn. If your loved one suffers from dementia, his or her behavior could be unusual or even aggressive.
Financial exploitation is the illegal use of an elderly person’s funds or property for the benefits of someone besides owner, according to the Assisted Living Federation of America, which states it is the most common form of elder abuse. In most cases, this can include fraud, manipulation or theft from an elder adult to gain control over his or her money or property. Signs could include a depleted checking or savings accounts, missing blank checks or credit cards, fraudulent charges or an overdrawn account.
Indications of Neglect
Elderly people can face various types of neglect. According to the National Council on Aging, neglect is a caregiver’s failure to provide life’s necessities, like clothing, food, medical care or shelter. They also could face willful deprivation, which means denying this assistance or care while exposing them to the risk of emotional, mental or physical harm. Signs of neglect generally include bed sores, dehydration, malnutrition, and unattended health problems or unsanitary living conditions.
Physical abuse, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is the intentional use of physical force that results in acute or chronic illness, bodily injury, physical pain, impairment, distress or death. This type of abuse can include hitting, striking with an object, scratching, biting, kicking, punching, pinching, shoving, burning, slapping, shaking and more. If your loved one has unexplainable marks or even broken bones, it is important to ask the right questions and determine the cause of those injuries.
How to Report Elder Abuse
If you suspect a family member or a loved one has been abused, you should report the actions immediately. Who you contact about the elder abuse depends on a variety of factors, including where the person is living, who is caring for the person and the severity of the abuse. If you think there is a high level of danger, you should always call 911 or emergency services.
If your loved one has been abused or neglected while living in a nursing home or assisted living facility, you may want to begin by contacting the manager of the facility. This person may be able to make changes that could get your loved one the care he or she needs, like changing the nurses who tend to them or scheduling additional care. That, however, is only one step of several important components to end abuse.
Next, you should contact your local ombudsman program. Ombudsmen are advocates for residents of nursing homes, board and care homes and assisted living facilities. They are trained to resolve problems and can assist you with complaints. According to the Administration on Aging, which administers the ombudsman program, 190,592 complaints initiated by residents, their families and other concerned individuals were resolved in 2013.
Legal Responsibility to Report Elder Abuse
Most states have laws in place that require people who witness elder abuse to report it to the appropriate agency. Of course, any family member or loved one who witnessed abuse would report it so that it could be stopped. These laws, however, apply more to caregivers, health care and human service professionals, law enforcement personnel and other long-term care facility employees who could be witnesses.
Generally, any person who is in some way responsible for the care of an elderly person should make a report if he or she has reason to believe that person has been abused or is subject to abuse. Also, any other professional who could suspect abuse, like an accountant or banker, should be prepared to report it. Depending on how the abuse is reported and to whom, the name of the person making the report likely would remain confidential.
If a person fails to report abuse, he or she could be charged with a misdemeanor offense, depending on the state in which the abuse occurred. The consequences vary, but it could include a monetary fine, a short jail sentence or both. That person also could lose their professional license, like a nursing license.
If the abuse is debilitating or fatal, that person could be held responsible in criminal and civil cases. The abused person’s family could seek damages from a person who witnessed the abuse, but failed to stop or report it. This, of course, all varies depending on the individual situation and where the incident occurred. The best way to handle these situations is to report any sign or possible indication of abuse immediately.
Elder abuse is something most people do not want to think about, but awareness and constructive conversations are critical to fighting it.
People need to know what constitutes possible signs of abuse and how they can help those who are not getting the proper care they need. Every person has the rights to be safe and treated with respect.
If you witness or suspect any type of elder abuse, it is your duty to report it, whether or not you are legally bound to do so.
About the Author
Sarah Blanchard is the marketing manager for Winburn Bequette and Odom Law Firm, two personal injury and nursing home abuse law firms dedicated to representing victims of nursing home abuse and neglect in Arkansas and Missouri. Connect with her on Google+ or YouTube.
Which signs of elder abuse would you like to know more about? Share any questions you have about recognizing or reporting abuse in the comments below.