Thursday, October 2, 2014

Nursing Homes: Are Your Parents in Danger?

When we put our aging relatives in the care of a nursing home, we assume they will be treated with dignity and compassion. But is that a safe assumption? Apparently not.

Whether in nursing homes or in situations of in-home care, there is always the possibility that a caregiver will intentionally act in a way that causes harm or creates a significant risk of harm to the highly vulnerable elder individual. This is known as elder mistreatment (or elder abuse/elder neglect), as is the failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elder’s basic needs or to protect them from harm. Elder mistreatment can take many forms, including verbal abuse, physical abuse, or even financial abuse.

It is sad but true that the risk of elder maltreatment is high enough in the US  that the situation justified the creation of a federal institution, the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), dedicated to tracking statistics on, and preventing, the abuse of the elderly. NCEA reports that the problem of elder abuse is growing, that collective data from state Adult Protective Services (APS) agencies show an increasing trend in the reporting of elder abuse.

Elder mistreatment Statistics

What is particularly hard to handle emotionally is the discovery that elder abuse is often committed by someone that you trusted as a loving caregiver or someone you trusted professionally to care for your relative.  But it can happen, as these alarming statistics show:
  • According to NCEA, as many as two million elders are abused in the United States.
  • In one year alone, the U.S. Administration on Aging announced a cumulative total in state-reported incidences of more than 20,000 complaints of senior abuse, gross neglect, and exploitation of seniors who were in nursing homes or were board and care residents.
  • A National Research Council Panel to Review Risk and Prevalence of Elder Abuse and Neglect reported in 2003 that 1-2 million elder Americans were injured, exploited, or mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection.
  • While elder abuse happens in professional institutions, the NCEA cautions you to be aware that 90 percent of reported elder abuse is committed by family members.
Many organizations suspect that the problem of elder abuse may actually be five times higher than complaint statistics show; a study by the National Center on Elder Abuse estimated that only one in five cases of elder mistreatment are ever reported.

Common Signs of Elder Abuse

As a caring relative, it is important that you personally watch for indications of elder care abuse, especially if you're loved one suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, as they may not be able to communicate to you about it, or or might not even be aware of the abuse being perpetrated against them.
Signs of Elder Physical Abuse
Here are some of the common signs that your elderly relative may be a victim of physical abuse or neglect:
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Bedsores – an extremely dangerous condition, as it can lead to sepsis infection – blood poisoning – a whole-body state of inflammation, which is potentially deadly. 
  • Strange or unexplained cuts, sprains, bruises, burns, or broken bones, which may be in various stages of healing (suggesting a long-term abuse situation)
  • Frozen/immobile joints
  • Refusal of nursing home staff to allow visitors to be alone with your elder relative
  • Unexplained venereal disease or genital trauma
  • The appearance that your elder relative is being kept in an over-medicated condition
Signs of Financial Elder abuse
Elder financial abuse is statistically a more frequent problem when the person is being cared for at home, and can come from a relative or professional in-home caregiver providing services.

Signs of elder care financial abuse to be on the lookout for:
  • Someone else's name has been added to your relative's signature card.
  • Cash or other items of value are missing from your relative's wallet, purse, or room.
  • You've noticed uncharacteristically large withdrawals from your loved one's financial accounts.
  • Your elder relative unexpectedly wants to change their will, their power of attorney status, their real estate title, or their life insurance policy.
  • You see unpaid bills, and yet you know your relative has the funds to pay the bills.
  • You notice ATM withdrawals from your relative's accounts in spite of the fact that he or she has no access to a machine.
These are all symptoms that your elder loved one might be being coerced, forced, or tricked out of their finances or valuables.

What to do if you suspect your elder relative is being abused

If the suspected abuse is taking place at a nursing home, your first step should be to report your suspicions to the nursing home's administrator.  If possible, present evidence of the abuse to support your assertion (photographs, copies of financial statements, etc.). If this action does not get results, you may also want to seek legal advice from an experienced elder abuse lawyer.  If you feel your elder relative's life may be in imminent danger, contact your local police.

It is not safe to assume that those hired to care for the elderly will notice the problem. Signs of elder abuse can easily be missed by professionals  because of lack of training on detecting abuse or because the elderly individual is often reluctant to report abuse to their institution for fear of retaliation, a physical or cognitive inability to speak up, or because, if the abuser is a family friend or relative, they don’t want to get the perpetrator in trouble.

And so, it’s up you. Become the watchful eyes; pay attention and ask questions. Be ready to take legal action against perpetrators if necessary.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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