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Elder Abuse & Neglect in Assisted Living Facilities

As people age, it is important for them to consider both their lifespan and their healthspan in order to live an enjoyable and fulfilling life. Lifespan refers to the length of time that a person lives, whereas healthspan refers to the amount of time that a person lives in good health. While people may not have complete control over their lifespan, there are steps they can take to improve their health span and maintain a healthy lifestyle as they age. Such actions include performing exercise, eating healthy, and getting proper rest. As the elderly population grows from the increase in quality of life, it is also important for everyone to recognize and be aware of the risks of elder abuse. Elder abuse can take many forms, including financial exploitation, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. By focusing on lifespan, health span, and the dangers of elder abuse, people can work towards living an enjoyable and fulfilling life at all ages, especially when growing older.

Assisted living abuse is estimated to be severely underreported, for every reported case of elder abuse, at least five cases go unnoticed. In the United States, there are approximately five million elders over the age of 60 who became a victim of elder abuse. Repercussions of elder abuse are serious, as it has been noted that victims of elder abuse are 300 greater at risk of death.

What is Assisted Living Abuse?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, assisted living abuse, otherwise known as elder abuse, is “an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult”. From the National Institute of Aging, elder abuse and neglect can be described as one of these following categories:

  1. Physical abuse – When an elder experiences pain that can come from intentional use of physical force such as hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping, or burning. This may result in functional impairment, illness, or death..
  2. Emotional abuse – Also known as psychological abuse, it can be seen in the form of humiliation, disrespect, verbal threats, non-verbal threats, and isolation.
  3. Neglect – When a caretaker refuses or does not meet the older adult’s basic needs. These needs include food, water, shelter, hygiene, clothing, and medical care.
  4. Sexual abuse – This type of abuse occurs when an elder is forced without their consent to participate in a sexual activity or has to witness a sexual activity.
  5. Financial abuse – When a person illegally or improperly uses the victim’s assets. Examples of this include using credit cards without permission, stealing retirement funds, or even changing important financial documents.

Elder Abuse Risks

Before admitting an elder into an assisted living facility, it is always important to diligently conduct a background check. There have been several research studies that show that the probability of abuse and neglect increase when there isn’t enough staff to take care of the assisted living home residents. Several other factors to consider include: number of nurses, number of nurse aides, rate of staff turnover, number of beds at a facility, and total incidents involving patient mistreatment. Once an elder is admitted into a selected facility, it is still important to perform regular check-ups. While visiting, be on the lookout for signs of nursing home abuse.

Signs and Symptoms of Assisted Living Abuse and Neglect

There are many instances of financial exploitation of family members. According to the National Council On Aging, “up to five million older Americans are abused every year, and the annual loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $36.5 billion.” Additionally, in a study conducted by the National Ageing Research Institute, it was noted that over 90% of elder abuse perpetrators were relatives of the elderly.

Given that elder abuse offenders can be anyone, sometimes the ones least suspect, it is important to be aware of the signs of assisted living abuse and neglect. Here is a list compiled from the National Center on Elder Abuse and National Institute on Aging detailing some examples of the types of elder abuse. Keep in mind that several of the signs can be attributed to multiple types of abuse, not just one.

  1. Physical signs
    1. Broken bones, bruises, welts, cuts, sores, or burns – bed sores in particular are very common
    2. Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
    3. Poor nutrition, loss of weight, or dehydration
    4. Poor living conditions – hazardous, unclean, or unsafe environments
    5. Missing daily living aids [glasses, walker, and medications] or glasses may be broken
    6. Sexually transmitted diseases without a clear explanation
  2. Emotional signs
    1. Changes in behavior such as sleep
    2. Doesn’t participate in activities s/he used to enjoy
    3. Acts withdrawn, agitated, or violent
    4. Shows signs of trauma, like rocking back and forth
    5. Displays distress or anger frequently
  3. Financial signs
    1. Unexpected changes to bank account – new unexplained joint account, large withdrawals from an inactive account
    2. Unusual changes in money management, will, or other monetary documents
    3. Fake signatures on financial documents
    4. Unpaid bills, such as for unpaid rent
    5. ATM withdrawals by an elder who never used a debit or credit card

Prevention of Elder Abuse

According to the NCEA, there are five things that everyone can do to prevent elder abuse.

  1. Learn the signs of elder abuse – consider teaching older adults to be diligent with any phone, internet, or email financial offers
  2. Call or visit the elderly on a regular basis to perform check ups – seniors will be less lonely, which will decrease their risk of taking advantage of
  3. Spread the message on elder abuse – talk to friends and family members. Teach them what you have learned about elder abuse and how to avoid future instances with law enforcement, community centers, and public transportation
  4. Spread the message on a broader scale – ask the radio or TV station suggesting they can cover World Elder Abuse Awareness Day or Grandparents Day in September
  5. Sign up to be a friendly visitor to an older person in your community

Reporting Elder Abuse

If you see elder abuse occurring real time, and the situation is extremely dangerous, you should call 911 immediately. Besides 911, here are a couple of other organization hotlines you can access to contact and report instances of elder abuse:

1-833–FRAUD–11

(or 833–372–8311)

10AM – 6PM Eastern Time

Monday – Friday

1-800-677-116

8AM – 9 PM Eastern Time

Monday – Friday

Taking Legal Action

After reporting the instance of elder abuse, one should consider taking legal action. This can help prevent future instances of elder abuse happening. Upon taking legal action, the victim of elder abuse could receive compensation from medical bills they’ve acquired while treating their injuries. In some cases, the damages may be so severe that a significant amount of money can be awarded to punish and deter such behavior from the at-fault party.

Works Cited

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Fast Facts: Preventing Elder Abuse |Violence Prevention|Injury Center.” CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/elderabuse/fastfact.html. Accessed 29 December 2022.

“Elder Abuse in Residential Long-Term Care Settings: What Is Known and What Information Is Needed?” Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America, by Committee on Law and Justice, et al., edited by Richard J. Bonnie and Robert B. Wallace, National Academies Press, 2003. National Library of Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK98786/. Accessed 29 December 2022.

National Ageing Research Institute. “Profile of elder abuse in Victoria Analysis of data about people seeking help from Seniors Rights Victoria SUMMARY REPORT.” Accessible CMS, June 2015, https://media.accessiblecms.com.au/uploads/seniors-rights-service/2020/08/Summary-Report_Profile-of-Elder-Abuse-in-Victoria_Final.pdf. Accessed 29 December 2022.

National Center on Elder Abuse. “Signs of Elder Abuse.” National Center on Elder Abuse, 25 October 2021, https://ncea.acl.gov/NCEA/media/Publication/NCEA_SignsEA.pdf. Accessed 29 December 2022.

National Council on Aging. “Get the Facts on Elder Abuse.” National Council on Aging, 23 February 2021, https://www.ncoa.org/article/get-the-facts-on-elder-abuse. Accessed 29 December 2022.

National Institute on Aging. “Elder Abuse | National Institute on Aging.” National Institute on Aging, 22 December 2022, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/elder-abuse. Accessed 29 December 2022.

National Institute on Aging. “Elder Abuse | National Institute on Aging.” National Institute on Aging, 29 July 2020, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/elder-abuse#types. Accessed 29 December 2022.

NCEA. “NCEA: 5 Things Everyone Can Do to Prevent Elder Abuse.” National Center on Elder Abuse, https://ncea.acl.gov/NCEA/media/Publication/NCEA_5thingsToPrevent.pdf. Accessed 29 December 2022.