Nursing Home Abuse

The thought of it is disturbing, but abuse of the elderly occurs all too frequently. They are some of society's most vulnerable people, but senior citizens are at perhaps their most vulnerable when their living situations make it clear that they cannot easily defend themselves.

Nursing home abuse takes many forms, but all of it is damaging in some way – emotionally, physically, or financially. As the elderly population increases and the social dynamics of our society begin to favor nursing home care over in-home care, we must be evermore vigilant in protecting senior citizens from abuse. Knowing the signs of nursing home abuse and contacting a nursing home abuse lawyer if you know of or suspect abuse is critical in the fight against nursing home abuse and neglect.

Understanding types of nursing home abuse may go a long way to preventing it in our society, or at the very least protecting your loved ones from suffering its consequences.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse in nursing homes is a major problem in the United States today. Physical abuse can be defined as non-accidental use of physical force against an elderly person. This force can result in pain and impairment; in extreme instances it can result in death if the injuries are untreated through nursing home neglect (another significant form of abuse). Physical abuse can also include the inappropriate use of drugs for a variety of reasons, including incapacitation, or the unnecessary use of physical restraints.

Physical abuse is perhaps the most obvious form of abuse because its impacts can be observed by others in the form of bruises or injuries. Unfortunately, other forms of abuse can damage an elderly person in much more subtle or even hidden ways.

Emotional Abuse

In this type of nursing home abuse, the elderly person can be left in emotional pain or distress or even a state of anxiety or fear. Abusers speak to the elderly person in a way that can leave a lasting impact and even lead to physical symptoms if the anxiety caused by the abuse is significant enough.

Types of verbal emotional abuse include shouting or threatening language, ridicule and verbal humiliation, and consistent blaming of the elderly person for things that are not his or her fault.

Emotional abuse in nursing homes can also include passive means. While less aggressive, they have the potential to be equally damaging. These passive means may include ignoring the elderly person or subjecting him or her to states of extended isolation. Often categorized separately, this isolation and neglect can be so extensive that caregivers are no longer fulfilling the legal obligations of their positions. While neglect may even be unintentional, this form of nursing home abuse can still severely damage the emotional well-being of an elderly person.

Financial Fraud and Exploitation

Perhaps the most common form of abuse of the elderly is financial. These abusers use their position of authority to extort money or simply gain the trust of an elderly person, especially one who is lonely and predisposed to any friendly approach. The financial fraud may be as simple as slowly stealing money from an elderly person or as complex as a scam designed to completely deplete a person's life savings.

Caregivers and strangers are both potential perpetrators of this abuse, and so it is important to understand the ways in which it might happen.

It is possible that caregivers could intentionally misuse an elderly person's credit cards or bank account information. It would not be unusual for a caregiver to have access to this information, and so care should be taken to limit the possibility that these funds could be accessed without the elderly person's permission. A more complex and sinister shape that this abuse could take is outright identity theft, which would be particularly easy for a caregiver in a position to access all of the required information.

A potentially more damaging form of fraud perpetrated by caregivers is healthcare fraud. In this type of fraud, money is charged for services that are then not delivered. They may be services or medications that the person desperately needs but will not receive. This form of nursing home abuse could result in illness or death, and so medical services and providers should be monitored closely.

A range of scams perpetrated by con artists tend to directly target elderly people. A particularly common one is a prize announcement in which the victim is told they have been awarded a "prize," but an up-front fee must be paid to claim it. This is always a scam. Another scam often targeted at the elderly is a fake charity. With a little inside knowledge, the charity can be tailored to the elderly person's personal interests and charitable tendencies. When the check is written, however, all the money goes to the scam artists.

Sexual Abuse

Easily the most distasteful form of nursing home abuse is the sexual abuse of the elderly. This is non-consensual sexual contact or interaction, usually between a caregiver and an elderly person. This is troublesome for its very nature, of course, but also because the caregiver is in a position of authority, power, and dominance over the potentially incapacitated victim.

This form of abuse does not necessarily have to be physical. It can also include the forcible viewing of pornographic material or sexual acts, or forcing the elderly person to undress without cause.

References:

"CBS News - Abuse in the Nursing Home" November 15, 2004. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/15/eveningnews/main655704.shtml (accessed March 20, 2010).

"Medicare.gov – Nursing Home Inspections" March 27, 2008. http://www.medicare.gov/nursing/AboutInspections.asp (accessed March 20, 2010).