Recent headlines in a small town in Middle America told of an avoidable tragedy: a certified nursing assistant in a skilled nursing home—one that is qualified to provide a high level of medical care by trained individuals—hurt two residents by forcibly restraining them. The level of physicality caused tearing and bruising of fragile skin while also instilling into the victims a very real fear of their own caregivers. The facility received two citations for failing to report the abuse, for not protecting the residents, and for not removing the perpetrator, as reported by Peoria, Illinois’ The Journal Star.
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. An estimated four million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological, or other forms of abuse and neglect, according to the American Psychological Association. Many more cases go unreported. Because of this, it’s important to recognize elder abuse and stop it before it happens.
Such abuse occurs in a myriad of ways. Beyond physical assault, senior citizens are also vulnerable to verbal abuse, sexual mistreatment, financial exploitation, and caregiver neglect. Last year, CNN’s research of inspection reports found that the federal government has cited more than 1,000 nursing homes for mishandling or failing to prevent alleged cases of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse at their facilities between 2013 and 2016. Cases range from humiliating to violent to sickening, with aides often committing the most serious acts and the centers themselves failing to report incidents to authorities, neglecting to preserve evidence and ultimately leaving patients in the care of predatory individuals.
Additionally, violence between seniors is a very real concern at nursing homes. In fact, abuse between residents is much more common than once thought and may exceed abuse by staff members. With such a multitude of abuses potentially threatening your loved ones, the real question is how can you ensure they remain safe while in a nursing home or assisted living center?
The good news is that much lies within your control. Visit older family members often as isolation can increase the chance of mistreatment. Pay attention to details: are they having trouble sleeping, seem confused or depressed? Are they losing weight,or acting agitated or withdrawn? Do they show unexplained bruises? Have they stopped their usual activities or seem wary of their caregivers?
Above all, believe what they say until proven otherwise. Don’t accept a staff’s dismissal of claims due to dementia or a fact of aging. Report and document your concerns with the administrator and be prepared to take further steps if you feel such action is justified.