If an individual is disabled or elderly and cannot care for themselves, they, along with their family, may have to make the difficult decision to relocate to a nursing home or extended care facility.
Residents and their families generally expect to receive a high level of care and support at these facilities. They reasonably assume staff will provide medical observation, assistance with essential activities of daily life, and companionship with professionalism and compassion. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), elder abuse is a prevalent public health problem affecting individuals worldwide. A 2017 study based on evidence collected from research in 28 countries found that about 15.7% of people age 60 and older were abused.
However, as WHO notes, this is most likely a vast underrepresentation of the true scope of the problem; estimates suggest only 1 in 24 elder abuse cases are reported.
While those who live at home or with family members are at risk, residents of nursing homes and extended care facilities are typically more susceptible to abuse. In part, this is because individuals in these facilities tend to have physical or cognitive limitations that can inhibit their ability to speak up or seek help independently.
Furthermore, individuals may be isolated, with little or no contact with friends or family, and may not know how or where to seek assistance. Alone and vulnerable, individuals can be easy targets for malicious or cruel staff.
Defining Elder Abuse
Elder abuse comes in many forms. As the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) explains, no single definition is used across disciplines or regions, so researchers must determine what constitutes “abuse” and who is an “elder.” This complicates the process of determining accurate statistics on nursing home abuse. It also makes it difficult for researchers and health care professionals to gauge the precise scope and nature of the issue.
Elder abuse includes physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. It also includes financial exploitation, neglect, abandonment, and self-neglect. Each state also has its own legal definition. States have criminal and civil laws regarding abuse of elders or acts related to the mistreatment of elders.
Physical violence and neglect account for a significant number of complaints. Physical harm can take several forms, including hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping, burning, or manhandling a person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Such actions can result in illness, pain, injury, distress, impairment, or death. Another kind of physical violence is sexual abuse, which involves any unwanted or forced sexual interaction, including harassment.
According to the CDC, between 2002 and 2016, more than 643,000 older adults visited the emergency room to treat assault injuries. There were also more than 19,000 homicides involving older adults.
Neglect also means failing to meet a person’s basic needs. This can include:
- Withholding food or water
- Leaving a resident in unsanitary conditions
- Withholding medication or medical care
Vulnerable populations, particularly people with debilitating physical or cognitive conditions, require a great deal of care and attention without which their well-being and health may be jeopardized.
But statistics show nursing home abuse is not limited to physical harm. As the CDC explains, emotional and psychological abuse are also prevalent. These forms of harm include any behavior that inflicts anguish, psychological pain, fear, or distress, per the agency. This can include humiliation or disrespect, threats, harassment, and isolation.
Vulnerable people may not be aware of certain abusive actions, including financial abuse, a prevalent issue in long-term facilities. In addition to theft of money or personal items, nursing home residents can be vulnerable to financial abuse via coercion to revise wills, trusts, or deeds, withdraw funds, or take out loans to benefit caregivers.
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What to Do if You Suspect Abuse
Some instances of abuse are intentional, the acts of malicious individuals with a disregard for vulnerable patients in their care. However, other instances of abuse, particularly neglect, are unintentional.
A vast majority of nursing homes are understaffed and ill-equipped to provide residents with adequate care. This can result in patients suffering in many ways, from malnourishment and lack of proper medical treatment to unsanitary environments.
Nursing home abuse statistics paint a grim picture, though data cannot accurately depict the anguish of victims’ realities. Regardless of whether abuse is intentional or not, it is important to note that the victim and their family are not at fault.
The effects of abuse on victims and their families can be significant and long-lasting. If you or a loved one have been abused in a nursing home or long-term care environment, you may have a legal right to seek compensation for your injuries and pain and suffering.
A personal injury lawyer may be able to support you in pursuing justice and financial awards. Contact Ben Crump Law, PLLC, to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to see if you have a case. Call (800) 959-1444 to get started.