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Nursing Home Abuse: How to Recognize It


About Elder Abuse

Elder abuse and mistreatments are "(a) intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who stands in a trust relationship to the elder, or (b) failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elder's basic needs or to protect the elder from harm." This definition includes financial exploitation of the elderly as well as physical abuse or neglect” (The National Research Council). 
Elder abuse is far too common in North America.  Abuse of any kind is heinous, but to expose those who are vulnerable is perhaps even more so; and that is exactly what elder abuse is.  Everyone eventually suffers from some kind of mental or physical deficiency as they age, be it the simple weakening of our body’s strength or full-blown dementia.  The elderly need protection as they cannot always protect themselves from their caregivers.  According to the America Psychological Association (APA), “Every year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological, or other forms of abuse and neglect.”

Prevalence of Nursing Home Abuse In the United States

Regrettably, the government agencies that monitor nursing homes do not collect consistent data about nationwide nursing home abuse incidence.  The last report that was released by the government (i.e. the U.S. House of Representatives) that gave Americans a general idea on the subject was released in 2001 and was based on data collected between 1999 and 2001.  The report found that during this 2 year time frame:
  • 5,283 nursing homes were reported for abuse violations that could have caused or did cause harm to residents.
  • About 9,000 abuse violations were reported.
  • About 1.7 abuse violations were reported for each nursing home. 
  • More than 2,500 of the abuse violations were very serious as they caused harm, could have caused serious harm, or were an immediate threat to residents’ lives.
  • 1,601 nursing homes caused either injuries or death to residents.
And these are just the abuses that were reported.  Many abuse cases go unreported.  In fact, The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) states that 1 in 6 elder abuse cases are reported.

Prevalence of Nursing Home Abuse in Canada

Nursing home abuse data and statistics are difficult to locate; no consistent, country-wide information seems to exist.  However, Statistics Canada provides the public with the following information:
  • About 7 percent of all Canadian elders suffer or have suffered from some form of abuse.
  • 7 percent of elders admit to suffering from physical or financial abuse.
  • 2 percent of elders admit to suffering from more than one form of abuse. 
  • 24 percent of all Canadian elder abusers are not related to the elder they abuse.
  • In 2008, nearly 75 percent of Alberta nursing homes were reported for exposing residents to some form of abuse or neglect. 

How to Recognize Nursing Home Abuse

In order to recognize nursing home abuse, one must understand each abuse type and its symptoms.  According to the APA:
Physical Abuse is when “a caregiver or other person uses enough force to cause unnecessary pain or injury, even if the reason is to help the older person….” Symptoms can include, “Bruises or grip marks around the arms or neck; Rope marks or welts on the wrists and/or ankles; Repeated unexplained injuries; Dismissive attitude or statements about injuries; [and] Refusal to go to an emergency department for repeated injuries.”
Emotional Abuse is when “a caregiver… behaves in a way that causes fear, mental anguish, and emotional pain or distress….” Symptoms can include, “Uncommunicative and unresponsive; [Unreasonable fear or suspicion]; Lack of interest in social contacts; Chronic physical or psychiatric health problems; [and] Evasiveness.”
Neglect is when a caregiver “[withholds] appropriate attention… [to] the individual… [or] intentionally…[fails] to meet the physical, social, or emotional needs of the older person.”  Symptoms of this can include, “Sunken eyes or loss of weight; Extreme thirst [or hunger]; [and] Bed sores.”
Sexual abuse is when a caregiver forces the older person to engage in activities of a sexual nature, such as sex, watching pornography, posing explicitly, etc.  Symptoms of this can include, “Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding; Torn or bloody underwear; Bruised breasts; [and] Venereal diseases or vaginal infections.”
Financial exploitation “can range from misuse of an elder's funds to embezzlement.”  Symptoms of this can include, “Life circumstances [that] don't match with the size of the estate; Large withdrawals from bank accounts, switching accounts, unusual ATM activity; [and] Signatures on checks don't match elder's signature.”

Article Written by:  Amber Paley, a guest writer bringing us information on nursing home abuse.

Amber spends much of her professional life analyzing nursing home abuse statistics.

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