Elder Abuse: Recognizing, Responsibilities, & Reporting

Today I am bringing you a post from Amber Paley of NursingHomeAbuse.net, an educational site provided by the National Association to Stop Nursing Home Abuse. Whether or not you serve a nursing home directly or have loved ones living in a nursing home, we all have a responsibility as members of society to watch out for our elders, in all of the places we might meet them. Below, Amber tells us what signs to look for and what to do if we suspect abuse.

Elder abuse is huge problem in the U.S., but unfortunately, it is one of those problems that takes place behind closed doors, so not many truly understand its depth.  Below you will find how to recognize the symptoms of elder abuse, what your responsibilities are as a person working in the elder care field, and how to go about reporting a case of elder abuse.

Recognizing Elder Abuse

There are 5 main types of abuse, and each type has its own indications.  According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, the following are the signs you should look for:

  • Physical Abuse Signs:
    • An elder’s report of physical abuse;
    • Any signs of an elder enduring physical punishment, i.e. broken glasses, torn clothing, etc.;
    • Bruising (e.g. black eyes), welts, lacerations;
    • Dislocations or sprains;
    • Fractured or broken bones or skull;
    • Healed, unhealed, or untreated cuts, punctures, wounds, or other injuries;
    • Internal bleeding or injuries;
    • Refusal by the caregiver to let anyone see the elder alone;
    • Rope or other physical restraint marks;
    • Sudden behavioral changes; and/or
    • Under or over-medication as indicated by lab findings.  (Unnecessary use of psychiatric drugs is a huge problem in terms of nursing home abuse.)
  • Sexual Abuse Signs:
    • An elder’s report of sexual assault or rape;
    • Bleeding from genital area or anus;
    • Bloody, stained, or torn underclothing;
    • Bruising on breasts, the genital area, or on inner thighs; and/or
    • The contraction of new sexual disease/s or infections.
  • Emotional Abuse Signs:
    • Agitation;
    • An elder’s report of emotional abuse;
    • Changes in psychological health;
    • Exhibiting signs of dementia; and/or
    • Exhibiting withdrawn, non-communicative, or non-responsive behaviors.
  • Neglect Abuse Signs:
    • An elder’s report of being neglected;
    • Exhibiting signs of not being bathed;
    • Exhibiting untreated bed sores;
    • Signs of not being given food or water;
    • Unattended or untreated health problems; and/or
    • Unsafe and/or unclean living conditions.
  • Financial Abuse Signs:
    • Abrupt changes in an elder’s banking practices, account/s, or financial documents;
    • An elder’s report of financial abuse.
    • Payment for uncharacteristic or unrealistic services or products;
    • Unexplained and new names on an elder’s bank account or banking card/s;
    • Unexplained withdrawals, transfers, or disappearance/s of assets or any sum of money, which may also be accompanied by forged signatures; and/or
    • When an elder lives in a substandard care situation or has unpaid/late bills despite having adequate funds to pay.

Your Responsibilities

Every state is different in terms of your responsibilities as a member of the elder care field.  For instance, in Illinois, “PR 225.5.  The Elder Abuse and Neglect Act requires a GA Unit employee to report suspected abuse of a person age 60 or older:

  • with whom they have contact in a working capacity and
  • who, because of dysfunction, is unable to report for themselves.

Dysfunction is any physical or mental condition which renders an older person unable to seek help for themselves. Such conditions might include dementia, paralysis, speech disorders, being confined to bed, or unable to reach or use a telephone.”

You need to know what your state’s laws are and what your lawful responsibilities are.  Additionally, as a member of the elder care field, you should also ask yourself what your moral and ethical responsibilities are and take any and every step you can if you suspect abuse of an elder.

How to Report

Each state defines abuse differently and has laws that allow or disallow instances when Adult Protective Services may intervene.  However, here are the general steps you should take:

  1. If it is an emergency, call 9-1-1.
  2. Inform your local:
    1. Adult Protective Services;
    2. Police;
    3. Long-term Care Ombudsman;
    4. Or if you’re unsure who to contact, consult this National Center for Elder Abuse page, which has state-by-state contact information for elder abuse.
  3. Notify family members of the abused elder and, if the elder is in a nursing home, the director at the nursing home.

 By working together as members of the elder care community, we can ensure that all members of this vulnerable group can life their lives in safety.

Amber Paley is a guest post and article writer bringing to us information on nursing home abuse.  Amber spends much of her professional life writing about nursing home abuse statistics.


One thought on “Elder Abuse: Recognizing, Responsibilities, & Reporting

  1. JoAnn Jordan says:

    Amber, thank you for sharing this important information. I would encourage those visiting in or working at retirement communities, assisted living facilities, or group homes to also speak with the administration. It is possible they have already contacted the authorities. If not, they will appreciate being made aware of issues.

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