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Elder Abuse: When the Unthinkable Happens To a Loved One

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The idea of abuse at a nursing home or other facility for the aging and affirm is always shocking, no matter how many times we hear about it. We expect those who choose a career in the ‘helping’ profession to work under the idea of ‘do no harm’. We entrust our loved ones to their care. And, we expect our family members to be treated with dignity and compassion.

The recent investigation of Alzheimer’s Care of Commerce, located near Atlanta, GA, is shocking and sadly, not as unusual as we would like to think. The case involves 21 staff members who have been charged with cruelty to people 65 or older including accusations of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. (Fox News 7/2)

The three-month investigation resulted in a raid of the 27-patient facility on Tuesday, July 2. Investigators are currently looking into the extent of the alleged wrongdoing. Reports indicate that some of the staff had prior felony convictions, including voluntary manslaughter and identity theft. (Washington Post, 7/2)

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), elder mistreatment (i.e. abuse and neglect) is defined as intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm (whether or not harm is intended) to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who stands in a trust relationship to the elder. This includes failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elder’s basic needs or to protect the elder from harm.

In 2008 there were approximately 3.2 million Americans in long-term care facilities. There have been many studies, but no clear indication of the extent of the problem. Statistics on elder abuse tend to be underreported as the higher percentages of victims are patients with some degree of disability. One study reported by the NCEA indicates that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse is reported. A similar study in New York reports 1 in 24 are reported. Other studies cite that adults with dementia are abused at a rate of 47-50%, with women more likely to be abused than men.

The case in Georgia is appalling. The administration failed to adequately supervise staff and tolerated, or condoned, routine abuse of elderly residents. There are reports of patients being hit, sprayed in the face with water, restrained with bed sheets and put in double diapers and left unattended.

As Baby Boomers begin to focus more on aging and the possibility of their own infirmity we can hope for a change in the attitudes towards the elderly. Abuse, not just of the elderly, is rampant in our society. Not only are people over age 65 abused in facilities, the statistics show that 90% of abusers are family members—adult children, spouses, partners or others.

How To Protect Aging Family Members

We should expect a care facility, nursing home or assisted living facility to follow the law and treat patients appropriately. Unfortunately the onus is on the family to pay attention to what happens to loved ones in these facilities.

Families should educate themselves on the rights of the elderly and be prepared to stay involved when a loved one is placed in a facility. The National Center for Elder Abuse has resource pages with information for every state. There are lawyers who specialize in elder care and can advise families on appropriate actions to take.

If you are putting a family member in a care facility stay involved from the very beginning. Get to know the staff at the nursing home or care facility. Go and visit on a regular basis. Ask your family member about conditions and keep your eyes open for possible signs of problems.

Fact Sheets on Elder Abusehttp://www.ncea.aoa.gov/Library/Review/Brief/index.aspx

National Center for Elder Abuse: http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/stop_abuse/index.aspx

Center on Elder Abusewww.centeronelderabuse.org