What Should You Do If You Suspect Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse isn’t a new phenomenon but it’s certainly a growing one. As the population in the United States ages there is a greater need for assisted living apartment communities and full-care facilities for seniors. These facilities are staffed by professional caregivers who do an excellent job. Unfortunately there are exceptions to the rule.
Elder abuse takes many forms. Nursing home or other care facility residents are victimized by theft, physical assault and emotional abuse. What all elder abuse has in common is that the victims are helpless to defend themselves. Negligence is another form of abuse and consists of inadequate care such as failing to feed or provide medicine at the prescribed times.
Emotional abuse occurs as staff verbally berate or insult an elderly person. This type of abuse may go on for years without it being detected. If your elderly mother is in a nursing home and you suspect that she’s being abused, what should you do? Well, first of all, take the possibility seriously.
Talk to your mother. Ask her questions about the care she’s receiving. Check her for bruising and other indications of physical abuse. Get a feel for how she regards her caregivers and whether there is seemingly unwarranted fear of a particular nurse, aid or other resident.
You should speak to your mother’s physician about your suspicions. The doctor will discreetly examine her with your suspicions in mind. If there is any evidence whatsoever of elder abuse you should contact your local law enforcement agency and the state or local social services agency charged with protecting the elderly. Elder abuse violates both criminal and civil laws.
The evidence you have should be presented to law enforcement authorities for further investigation. Relevant evidence includes what you’ve been told by your mother, other facility residents and the physician as well as the physician’s documentation of signs of abuse. Any neglect you’ve observed such as dirty and unchanged sheets, unnecessary restraints or improper staff attitudes and behavior should be reported. All these things will be combined to help make a case of elder abuse.
Obtaining the services of an attorney for potential civil litigation is an appropriate response if you suspect abuse or neglect. Civil allegations may successfully be established by the preponderance of evidence in civil litigation even if the required proof beyond a reasonable doubt to prove a crime isn’t met. A lawsuit will force the care facility to correct the situation and be a strong deterrent to allowing abuse to occur in the future. Just the threat of legal action can launch an internal investigation by facility administrators and correct questionable practices or result in outright firings and criminal prosecutions.
Prevention is the best cure for elder abuse, so be aware and involved in the care of your mother. Listen to her complaints and bring them up to the staff and facility administrators. Make sure you mention to staff that your mother is represented by an attorney in the matter of her care. If you’re proactive you won’t have anything to worry about.