We don’t want to think about it, the possibility that when we’re sending off our parents to get the care they need and deserve, that they may encounter individuals that don’t have their best interests at heart. We want to think that wherever we send them, they’ll be cared for by individuals with sunny dispositions, able to access all the facilities as needed, and kept to healthy eating, exercise, and sleep regimens. We don’t like the uncomfortable reality that, as much as nursing homes and communal care centers are ostensibly dedicated to providing the level of care older adults need, abusers, can sneak into these places and use their power to take advantage of our loved ones.
1. Elder Abuse In the US
Unfortunately, the reality is that elder abuse is a common problem in the US. Around 1 in 10 older adults are found to have been the victims of a form of elder abuse. Unfortunately, the reality is that those statistics probably fall short of reflecting how many people are actually affected by this increasingly prevalent problem. The bad news is that there’s no way to eliminate the possibility your older adult finds themselves in one of these situations 100 percent. Even the most strenuous research and recurring in-person interviews may not expose the criminals skulking about in the shadows.
The good news is that the signs of elder abuse are actually relatively well known. If equipped with the proper knowledge and attentive to your older adult’s well-being, you’ll likely catch the abuse and be able to extract your older adult from that harmful situation.
While not a comprehensive list by any means, these common signs should provide a strong foundation for recognizing elder abuse and taking action as needed.
2. Verbally or Physically Abusive Staff
Now, everyone has bad days, and nursing staff tends to have them more than most. So often underpaid, underappreciated, and undersupported, nursing staff can be just as prone to irritation and moodiness as the rest of us. But notice that a particular staff member seems to be treating patients across the board without kindness, or you notice that patients seem to be afraid of a particular staff member or deathly afraid of breaking the rules. There may be more going on.
Paying attention to your older adult is paramount here, as if they have a disproportionately wrong opinion of a particular staff member or seem angry or afraid when they’re around, there may be things going on when you aren’t around.
3. Unexplained Bruising or Bleeding
An accident or two is more than expected, even in nursing homes. No matter what precautions a facility takes, older adults are more fragile and prone to hurting themselves in accidents, so should your older adults fall and bruise themselves once, it probably isn’t time to get the police involved. Yet, if you notice a pattern of the same accidents happening repeatedly, you may want to look into how and why these accidents are occurring.
Nursing homes are supposed to take steps to prevent accidents, and if they’re failing to do their duty, they may be guilty of negligence (and that’s the best worst-case scenario). But, of course, the ultimate worst-case scenario is that your older adult is being physically or sexually abused, and the facility is trying to cover it up.
4. Depression or Social Withdrawal
This can be tricky to diagnose the cause of, as various forms of abuse tend to cause adverse psychological symptoms. A good rule of thumb is that if your older adult seems unhappy with where they are, it’s worth looking into to see if you can help them with the root cause. Not every instance of depression is caused by a form of abuse, but those that tend to manifest themselves in suicidal ideation, separation from friends and family members, and uneven eating and sleeping habits. Keep an eye out for the latter two, as if your older adult’s patterns are not being moderated by their caregiving facility, that could be a case of negligence on their part.
5. Listen to Your Older Adult
As your older adult transitions to nursing facility life, they will likely offer frequent feedback (both verbal and nonverbal) on how the facility is treating them. Listening to them and the subtle cues that they give you will make it easier to diagnose potential threats to their well-being and make it easier for you to extract them from that situation should you need to.