Abuse and neglect of our senior citizens is a troubling, often overlooked social problem across the United States. Federal investigations show that nearly two million Americans have suffered at the hands of those who are supposed to care for them. Nursing home abuse may exist in your community. We must do our best to make sure that the people who work in nursing homes are professionally trained and personally able to deal with the unique needs of our senior citizens.

Abuse of elders with dementia

Detecting elder abuse takes special attention on the part of loved ones. Nursing home professionals must also be observant in order to advocate for their patients. Because of their condition, elders with dementia present specific challenges. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), a study conducted in the United States determined that 47.3% of surveyed caregivers had acted with abuse or neglect toward their patients with dementia.

Dementia creates impairments in the brain and thinking processes that can change an elder’s personality and keep them from behaving with courtesy and social graces. Irritability, forgetfulness, and the inability to properly self-care are just a few signs of this condition. Caring for elderly people who are suffering from dementia requires a well-trained professional. However, research shows that not all caregivers are up to the task. A research brief published by the NCEA shows that up to 60% of caregivers had been verbally abusive toward their patients. Between 5% and 10% of caregivers reported being physically abusive, and 14% of caregivers reported being neglectful. It is reasonable to expect that, since these results were self-reported by the caregivers, the likelihood of unreported abuse and neglect is actually much higher.

How can advocates for elders recognize signs of nursing home abuse?

According to the NCAE, there are six categories of abuse complaints. Elders, and their advocates, may complain of physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, financial exploitation, gross neglect, and resident-to-resident abuse.

Physical abuse

Aging and illness make nursing home residents more frail. . Your loved one should be able to provide a reasonable explanation of any bruises, scrapes, soreness, or worse, and a caregiver or two should be able to back up what your loved one says about these problems. Beyond that, it could be physical abuse, which includes striking, hitting, pushing, and shoving. Physical abuse can also include the use of restraints such as straps or other binding materials. Unnecessarily confining an elder to a room or chair is also a form of physical abuse. If prescribed drugs are not given to the elder as needed, this is also physical abuse. Physical abuse can also include intentionally ignoring or delaying care.

Sexual abuse

Pay attention to any signs of tension between your loved one and others in the nursing home. If your loved one displays fear of a person, do not disregard their feelings. Sexual abuse of elders in a nursing home is any sexual act that occurs without their consent. This could include forcing the elder to undress, or forcing elders to view materials they do not wish to see.

Psychological abuse

Psychological or emotional abuse in the nursing home can include intimidation, humiliation, and excessive blaming or scapegoating. Abusive nursing home caregivers may also actively ignore nursing home residents, isolate them from others, or purposefully irritate or bother them in some way. Your elderly loved ones should be taken seriously by their caregivers, and not teased.

Financial exploitation

Take special care to observe elders’ financial accounts. Elderly people in nursing homes are often the target of scams. Some scams may tell the elder that they have won a prize, but must pay money to receive it. Phony charities are another example to which senior citizens in nursing homes are particularly vulnerable; as is investment fraud.

Gross neglect

The bodily needs of nursing home residents must be attended to in a timely, appropriate manner. Take seriously any evidence of prolonged exposure to unclean clothing or bedding. Residents in nursing homes need nutritious food, and enough of it. They should have access to fresh air and appropriate exercise for their condition. Nursing home residents should expect professional, prompt attention to their physical needs.

Resident-to-resident abuse

Nursing home residents have a right to expect fair and appropriate supervision of their neighbors. If your loved one often complains about the actions of a fellow resident, take the complaints seriously. Follow up with nursing home staff. Try to bring your own observations to the nursing home staff as well.

Many families in the United States decide to place loved ones in nursing home facilities. We do this in the best interests of our aging loved ones. Ideally, nursing homes provide safety, attentive healthcare, and companionship in our family members’ twilight years. We do not and should not expect abuse. If you suspect abuse is happening in a nursing home, it is important to act. Do not look the other way; we all must listen carefully to our seniors and their caregivers, and we all have a duty to intervene if we suspect nursing home abuse. Bring much needed awareness to the issue by making it part of your conversations, and educate others about nursing home abuse. Together we can protect our vulnerable loved ones.

If you live in Tucson, Arizona, know that the Tucson Police Department is part of a state and local coalition working together as the Elder Abuse Task Force. Statewide, the Arizona Attorney General’s office has made the protection of seniors a top priority, and has formed the Taskforce Against Senior Abuse.

If you believe that you or a loved one has suffered abuse in a nursing home, call us now at 1-800-THE-EAGLE (1-800-843-3245) or fill out the short and simple case form here. You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries or losses.