Nursing home and elder abuse affects millions of individuals and their families. As people grow older and need additional help caring for themselves and their finances, they are vulnerable to abuse by family members and caretakers. Sometimes elderly people are ashamed to tell others about their victimization, and other times nursing homes fail to do so. This silence means incidents of elder and nursing home abuse are drastically underreported.
As the Baby Boomer generation gets older, this problem will likely only worsen. It is crucial for us all to know the signs of abuse, and how to take action.
If it Sounds Too Good to Be True...
Estimates suggest that elderly Americans are scammed out of $37 Million every year. About 44 percent of these cases are never brought to the authorities. Elderly people do not want to tell their family members they have fallen for these schemes, fearing their children may decide they should not live alone.
While the worry of losing independence is a factor in why elders maintain their silence, in about 60 percent of financial abuse cases, the person taking money is a relative. The victim may worry that their family member may be sent to jail if they report the crime, or the family member may have threatened to harm or stop giving the elderly person proper care. This is why it is key for other family members and/or loved ones to be aware of elderly relatives’ finances.
Fighting Fraud, Respecting Independence
Adult children must remember not shame parents or elderly relatives about money matters, or try to take over their finances. This power play makes elderly persons more likely to hide calls from scammers. Instead, it is important to talk with relatives about what to do when they get such calls. Emphasize that someone cannot trust people they do not know on the phone.
Some of the most widespread scams ask for fees for lottery winnings, money to help a grandchild who is in trouble, or individuals claiming to be Medicare representatives. People may be more likely to fall for these scams during the months following a major life shift, such as moving, or losing a spouse or other family member.
Grown children may want to get access to their parents’ bank and credit card account online, to make sure there are no drastic charges or odd purchases. They may also consider buying a cell phone for their parents, since the number is less likely to be scammed. Finally, they may also want to check their parents’ credit reports to make sure no cards have been started in their names.
Nursing Home Neglect
In addition to financial abuse, nursing home abuse and neglect is not often reported to authorities. Nursing home attendants may clean patients after such traumatic episodes, hiding the evidence of physical violence or sexual assault. The Inspector General’s office at the Department of Health and Human Services recently conducted a study, and found 134 cases of serious abuse had gone unreported in a 2-year period.
This figure was based on patients who had been taken to the emergency room because of their injuries. It does not include abuse cases in which the patient was not hospitalized. Nursing home attendants have an incentive not to report abuse and risk the nursing home being fined, so it becomes the task of relatives to make sure their loved one is receiving good care.
Spotting Signs of Abuse
People in nursing homes may be abused physically, sexually, and emotionally. They can also be victimized through inattention and neglect, or taken advantage of financially. In-home caregivers may also be abusive, so it is important for family members to look for these warning signs in either care situation.
If medications are not being given properly, at the right times or in the correct amounts, elderly individuals may seem sleepy or disoriented. If they have problems moving independently, it may be due to a lack regular therapy. If an elderly loved one has bruises or scratches, these may have come from being treated roughly while being fed, helped out of bed, or in the bathroom.
When individuals are being emotionally abused, such as being called names, they may talk less than usual, have problems eating or sleeping, lose weight, or be withdrawn. These may also be symptoms of a range of health problems, so family members should be aware of changes regardless.
If an elderly person doesn’t want to talk about certain topics and seems anxious, this could signal caregiver threats such as bodily harm or refusing to care for personal needs. Family members should not dismiss these behaviors, since they could be signs of serious abuse.
To understand whether an elderly relative is being well cared for, family members should invest time at the nursing home, or watching the caregiver interact with their loved one. Noting typical behaviors, such as how residents and staff communicate at mealtimes, can indicate the quality of care. Family members can also observe how their loved one acts when a caregiver enters the room. Do they smile or grimace? Is there someone they don’t want to care for them?
Asking questions about different care procedures can also be helpful. If an attendant shrugs off inquires without volunteering to find an answer, or says this is “standard,” there may be reason to worry. Also, while any nursing home may feel busy and understaffed from time, if that is always the case, it can signal larger problems. For example, if an elderly resident says no one comes when they press the call light, family members may want to test whether this happens consistently, or just during shift changes.
While all elder abuse cannot be prevented, if family members can spot the signs, they may help protect their loved one from greater harm. Most people do not fall prey to scams, and nursing homes are staffed by many caring individuals, but the cases that seep between the cracks have become stories we hear too often.