While some of us are aware of the statistics surrounding elder abuse, few of us really consider that our loved ones may become the latest victim of an orderly on a power trip. That’s the kind of thing that happens to someone else, we all think, even though a significant percentage of older adults experience some form of elder abuse in communal settings. With a news cycle full of horrible happenings that occur daily, we’re tempted to categorize such reports as cautionary tales. Our only real frame of reference for these happenings is what we see depicted and dramatized on serials like Law and Order… The problem of elder abuse seems far away, and surely our loved ones will be safe if we send them off to an extended care facility, or will they?
However, elder abuse is a very real, very prevalent problem, and if you’re planning on sending your older adult to a nursing home or other communal facility, your older adult may wind up in an unsafe place. Unfortunately, there is very little to be done about it, as current statistics for elder abuse are likely vastly underreported, and all the research in the world doesn’t guarantee that any given nursing home is exempt from this problem. For older adults that can only receive the proper care in these settings, the solution seems to be keep their head down and hope for the best.
While you can’t be at the nursing home at all hours, watching everything they do and catching the perpetrator in the act, you can learn about the different kinds of elder abuse and their most prominent signs. If something untoward should happen to your older adult and you have the requisite knowledge, you can then pull them out of that unsafe environment and work on their recovery with them.
Without further ado, here are the many forms of elder abuse, along with their most prominent signifiers.
When thinking about elder abuse, most will immediately conjure up images of physical abuse: unexplainable bruises and bleeding, repeated injuries that are given the same, half-baked explanation, declining mental health, and fear of staff members. This is because physical abuse is one of the more common forms of elder abuse, as abusers are able to easily assert their power over older adults through the use of physical force. If you notice that your older adult has been bruised in ways that are not easily explained, or that they are being taken to the hospital repeatedly for the same “accidents,” you may want to investigate further.
This goes double if you notice that the bruising or bleeding is coming from sensitive areas, such as the groin or posterior, as these are signs of sexual abuse. Other signs of sexual abuse include torn undergarments, suicidal ideation, social withdrawal, and new STDs. If you notice any of these signs cropping up, pull them out of that environment immediately, and hire a reputable lawyer with experience in these types of cases who can seek justice on their behalf.
Emotional abuse is, put simply, any attempt by an abuser to belittle, dehumanize, or otherwise emotionally harm an older adult. Emotional abuse can take many forms, such as insulting or threatening a patient, restricting their access to social activities, preventing them from using facilities, and attempting to humiliate them. Common signs of emotional abuse are also signs of mental illness, such as depression, suicidal ideation, sudden mood swings or emotional volatility, and the like, so be sure to investigate further if you notice any signs of unhappiness on your loved one’s part; it may be nothing, or it may be something very dark indeed.
When an institution neglects your older adult, they are essentially failing to provide a reasonable level of care for them, disregarding their needs in a way that causes harm to the older adult. Leaving your older adult in bed (especially if they have challenges walking themselves), failing to keep them on a regulated eating and sleeping schedule, not helping them take care of their hygiene, and not making sure they have access to the home’s facilities are all instances of neglectful behavior. If you notice that your older adult is developing unhealthy patterns, has declining physical or mental health, or is showing physical signs of neglect like malnutrition or bedsores, you may want to take a closer look at the home’s practices.
While not all nursing homes have malevolent actors roaming the halls, looking for people to take advantage of, some of them do. The horrifying thing is, you’ll never be able to tell which is which until your older adult is into the thick of it. However, learning how to recognize the signs of elder abuse will prepare you to respond appropriately should your older adult find themselves in a harmful situation.