One of the most terrifying situations you need to worry about when a parent or grandparent is living in an elder care facility or under the watchful eye of a caretaker is elder abuse. Most people unknowingly believe just because a caregiver or nurse is trained or certified to assist your loved one, nothing will happen to them. You also wholeheartedly believe that they are receiving all the proper care and will not be part of a neglectful situation. Think again.
You and your loved one are putting all your trust into a complete stranger. It’s sad to think that senior citizen abuse happens. Unfortunately, it can and does, even in the most-expensive and best facilities, as well as in your home under the attention of a caregiver. Elder abuse is any intentional, knowing or neglectful act by a caretaker or other person that causes harm to a vulnerable senior citizen.
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), roughly one in 10 Americans older than 60 have been a victim of elder abuse in one form or another. Despite this staggering statistic, you can learn how to prevent nursing home abuse or elder abuse. Family and friends can take a proactive approach to their loved ones’ care, which can help them recognize the warning signs of elder abuse.
What Is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is the emotional, physical or sexual abuse of senior citizens or the attempt to exploit, abandon or neglect them. Perpetrators include spouses, caretakers, children and other family members, as well as staff members working in nursing homes, assisted living, memory care or similar facilities. There are typically seven types of elder abuse reported to authorities:
- Emotional abuse includes mental distress or pain inflicted by verbal or nonverbal acts such as intimidation, threats or humiliation.
- Physical abuse is the pain or injury received by a senior from being slapped, bruised or restrained by chemical, such as medication/drugs, or physical means.
- Sexual abuse means fondling, touching, intercourse or any other type of non-consensual sexual contact with an older adult who is unwilling to consent, unable to understand or feels threatened or physically forced.
- Neglect or willful deprivation is the failure to provide protection, care, shelter, health care or food to an older adult who cannot do so themselves. It also includes exposing that individual to the risk of emotional, mental or physical harm.
- Abandonment includes the desertion of a senior citizen by their responsible party.
- Confinement is isolating or restraining a senior citizen in situations other than for medical purposes.
- Financial exploitation is the most common type of elder abuse and includes withholding or illegally using an older adult’s property, funds or assets for another person’s gain.
Warning Signs of Elder Abuse
Sadly, many seniors who are victims of elder abuse remain quiet about it for fear of retaliation or worse. However, if you suspect someone you love suffers from this type of wrongdoing, you may want to check for some of the warning signs. Remember, one small sign does not indicate elder abuse. It would have to be pattern or series of symptoms. Some tell-tale signs may include:
- Sudden withdrawal from regular daily activities
- Unexplained change in behavior, alertness and mood
- Isolation from family and friends by caregiver
- Hearing a caretaker belittle or threaten your loved one or be verbally aggressive or controlling
- Unexplained abrasions, bruises, welts, fractures, burns or broken bones
- Bedsores, open wounds and untreated injuries in different healing stages
- Broken eyeglasses and signs of being subjected to punishment or being retrained
- Mentioning being mistreated, hit, kicked or slapped
- Lab findings of medication overdose
- Unexplained sexually transmitted disease
- Having new problems walking or sitting
- Bruising, bleeding or abrasions in the pelvic or genital region
- Torn, bloody or stained undergarments
- Panic attacks
- Inappropriate, unusual or aggressive sexual behavior
- Attempts at suicide
- Poor hygiene, rapid weight loss or unattended health or medical needs
- Unsafe or unsanitary living conditions
- Lack of food or appropriate clothing
- Leaving a person with memory loss disorder, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, unsupervised
- Being confined to a bed and left without any type of care
- Evidence of disrepair, clutter and dirtiness in the home
- Lack of adequate facilities in home, such as heating, cooling, plumbing or electricity
- Sudden change in wills, policies, titles or powers of attorney
- Valuable items or cash missing
- Sudden lack of affordable comforts and amenities in your loved one’s home
- Giving excessively expensive financial gifts to caregiver or asking you for
financial reimbursement for care when the caregiver has already been paid
- Giving caregiver complete control over finances without discussing it with you first
Who Is at Risk?
There are several theories to consider when deciding if a senior citizen is vulnerable to elder abuse. The NCOA states that almost 90 percent of the abuse and neglect that occurs among the senior community is committed by a known perpetrator, most commonly an adult child or spouse.
For those acts committed by spouses, many of these situations start as domestic abuse earlier in the marriage. This also includes cases where the husband or wife tried to overpower or control the other through other types of elder abuse, including emotional, physical violence, threats and intimidation.
Those at risk for elder mistreatment also include adult children who depend on their older parents for financial or other types of support. The risk of abuse is greater when an adult child lives with an elderly parent. Other factors that put individuals at risk for abusing seniors:
- Caregiver stress is another theory related to elder abuse. Although the caretaker is well-meaning, they may be so overworked or overwhelmed with their job, especially in a large senior living facility, that stress overpowers the situation. The caregiver may act out by harming, neglecting or restraining the victim.
- Those with a lack of experience are ill-prepared to care for a senior citizen. There isn’t much information available that offers support to caregivers for seniors. This can lead to unintentional neglect and abuse.
- Caregivers with personal problems may be at risk for abusing seniors mainly as a function of their own shortcomings. A caregiver who has issues such as emotional disorders, unemployment, financial difficulties, drug addiction or alcoholism is more likely to mistreat another person who doesn’t have these same issues going on.
- Not enough time during the day is a problem for many people, which in turn can cause excess stress. For a caregiver, they can feel pulled in many directions, therefore not having enough time to properly care for an elderly relative.
Just as there are risks for individuals to abuse or mistreat senior citizens, there are also several instances that show certain segments of the adult community are at risk for being abused:
- Those with physical or mental impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to be abused than seniors who are in good health. As a person’s health declines and needs increase, they become more vulnerable because they need more assistance with personal tasks such as bathing and hygiene. This can become a more stressful time for a caretaker, and they may realize those with memory impairments are less likely or unable to report the crime.
- Seniors who are purposely kept from large groups or gatherings or live alone tend to be victims more than those who are sociable and live in large facilities or group homes.
Reporting Elder Abuse
Despite the high number of seniors who have been victims of elder abuse, it is estimated only one in 14 cases are actually reported to authorities, according to the aforementioned NCOA report. If you are in this situation and don’t know what to do about the nursing home abuse or elder abuse you’ve witnessed, here are a few steps you can take:
- If it is a severe case where the senior’s life is in danger, call 911
- In a non-severe case, contact your loved one’s family doctor or social worker
- Use the Eldercare Locator, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Aging, or call (800) 677-1116 if you don’t know who to call about elder abuse
- Visit state resources section of National Center of Elder Abuse, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for information on how to file a complaint or report in your state or for information on how to prevent elder abuse
- If need be, seek legal counsel to help you file your report
When you are filing your elder abuse report, you need to make sure the information you supply is accurate and specific. Do not be general and state, “I believe my mom is being abused.” Describe as many details as possible, including names, dates and behaviors. When making a report, either on the phone, online or in-person, give the following details:
- Elderly person’s name, address and contact information
- Specifics about why you are concerned, including time, date and place of suspected abuse, and why you feel the mistreatment is happening
- Any type of evidence, including witnesses’ names and/or photographs
Reporting Warning Signs of Nursing Home and Elder Abuse
If you are reporting the alleged abuse, you may be asked for your name, address and telephone, although in many states it is not required you identify yourself. Be prepared to give the following information about the victim:
- Any known medical conditions including confusion or memory loss
- Names and dosages of medications, including doctor and pharmacy information
- The types of social support the senior citizen has
- If you or anyone else has heard or seen incidents of hitting, yelling or other abusive behavior
Failing to report elder abuse or mistreatment is a crime, especially if the victim lives in a long-term health care facility that receives government funding. The following professionals are typically required to report any cases of suspected elder neglect or mistreatment:
- Anyone who has full responsibility or custody of an elderly person
- Health practitioners, including doctors, nurses, dentists, interns and emergency room personnel
- Local law enforcement officers
- Members of the clergy
- Employees of county adult protective services
- Licensed or clinical social workers
- Employees or officers of financial institutions when there is suspected financial abuse or exploitation
- All employees of heath care facilities such as long-term care facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, adult day care centers and residential care facilities.
In Nevada, professionals reporting the alleged neglect or mistreatment have the legal duty to report it to the authorities as soon as possible. Defying this law is a punishable misdemeanor carrying a sentence of:
- Up to six months in jail and/or
- Up to $1,000 in fines
Penalties and Sentencing for Elder Abuse
In Nevada, the following are several types of elder abuse penalties upheld by local and state courts:
A first offense charge of elder abuse that produces no substantial mental or great bodily harm is a gross misdemeanor. This carries a penalty of:
- Up to 364 days of jail time and/or
- Up to $2,000 in fees/fines and
A subsequent conviction of elder abuse is known as a category B felony, which carries a penalty of:
- Two to six years in a state prison and
However, if the elderly victim is inflicted with any substantial bodily or mental harm, no matter if it is the offender’s first offense or not, it is a category B felony, which carries a sentence of:
- Two to 20 years in a prison and
Elder neglect, which is allowing an older individual to be inflicted with neglect or pain that doesn’t result in considerable mental or physical harm, is a gross misdemeanor and carries a penalty of:
- Up to 364 days of jail time and/or
- Up to $2,000 in fees/fines and
Alleged elder neglect that causes substantial mental or physical harm is a class B felony and carries a penalty of:
- Two to six years in a prison and
The Next Steps
If you feel a loved one is a victim of elder mistreatment or you have seen signs of nursing home abuse, give us a call at (702) 380-3100 to talk about your case. We have the legal knowledge and experience needed to help you and your loved one.