Most assisted living and nursing home staff members are compassionate individuals who do their best to properly care for elderly residents. Yet, "most" doesn't mean "all." The number of elderly individuals who have been abused by those they — and their families — trust to care for them is staggering.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, somewhere between one and two million seniors have been mistreated by someone they trust, whether that is a family member or a nursing home care attendant. Long Term Care Ombudsman programs investigated 20,678 complaints of abuse — mostly physical abuse — in nursing homes in 2003. Yet, this number doesn't show the full extent of the problem. Elder abuse experts estimate that approximately five incidents of elder abuse go unreported for every one reported case.
The numbers are most startling at the state level. For example, more than 200,000 elderly individuals suffer abuse each year in California.
Elder abuse lawyers, government agencies and victim advocates throughout the country have taken a stand against nursing home and assisted living abuse, helping families hold long-term care facilities and abusive caregivers responsible for their negligent and criminal actions. Yet, the first step in stopping elder abuse is identifying the abuse, and the people who are in the best place to do this are family members and friends of the potential victims.
Do you suspect your loved one is being abused? How can you identify nursing home or assisted living abuse? Where should you turn for help?
Watching for Signs of Abuse in Long-Term Care Facilities
In order to identify assisted living or nursing home abuse, it is helpful to know what types of abuse are possible. Common forms of elder abuse include physical abuse, neglect and mental/verbal/emotional abuse.
Physical abuse: Physical abuse can include assault, altering and withholding medications, withholding food, rape and sexual abuse, untreated bed sores and improper restraints. Physical abuse may or may not be easily noticeable. It could manifest itself in bruises, burns, pressure ulcers and malnutrition, or in less visible forms, such as changes in the resident's mood or actions.
Neglect: Nursing home and assisted living neglect is also prevalent. Signs of neglect can include bed sores, malnutrition, dehydration, poor hygiene, medication errors and unclean living areas.
Emotional / verbal abuse: Emotional abuse is more difficult to identify. Often, the most clear signs of emotional abuse are behavioral changes, such as changes in alertness, confusion, depression, anger and unexplained withdrawal.
What to Do if You Suspect Elder Abuse
If you suspect that your loved one is being abused, it is important to act immediately to report the abuse and hold the negligent parties accountable. If there is immediate danger, call 911. Otherwise, contact your local adult protective services agency or elder abuse hotline, as well as authorities at the long-term care facility. Then, call an elder abuse attorney near you.
A nursing home and assisted living negligence lawyer can investigate your case and determine whether you can bring a personal injury claim for the neglect or abuse your loved one has experienced.
Other Steps You Can Take to Prevent Abuse
The biggest thing you can do to prevent nursing home or assisted living facility abuse from occurring is to visit your loved one regularly. Keeping in contact will prevent isolation and help ward off potential abusers. It will also help you identify abuse if it does occur.
There are also opportunities for you to volunteer in programs for seniors, such as delivering meals, visiting seniors in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, and raising awareness of elder abuse. Too many elderly individuals live isolated lives and that isolation can breed abuse. Volunteering to be a friend can help prevent elder abuse.
Laws Protecting Against Nursing Home and Assisted Living Abuse
Under federal and state law, residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities have a number of rights that long-term care facilities must respect. For example, residents have a right to:
- Be treated with respect and dignity
- Receive personal care and adequate food and hygiene
- Have privacy during personal care
- Be free from elder abuse, including verbal, physical, sexual and emotional abuse
- Be free from improper restraints
- Receive medical care and all necessary medications to prevent illness and injury
- Be free from pressure sores and receive all necessary treatment if they develop
- Be adequately supervised
- Participate in choosing their health care, activities and schedules
There are specific federal regulations for nursing homes. For example, nursing homes must have a sufficient number of staff members to provide adequate care for residents. They must also develop a comprehensive care plan for every resident and follow that care plan to ensure health and safety. Steps must be taken to prevent nursing home accidents, malnutrition, dehydration and other serious problems.
Failure to provide adequate care is nothing short of breaking the law. Speak with an elder abuse attorney near you for more information.