It’s estimated that as many as five million older adults are abused in the U.S. each year. These numbers may seem impossibly high, and lead many to ask: where does most elder abuse occur? Elder abuse has been known to happen in a person’s own home, in the home of a friend or family member, in a hospital, or in any other residential or healthcare setting. There is evidence that nursing home abuse is one of the most prevalent types of elder abuse.
But do most elderly abuse victims get the support they need to recover? Unfortunately, given the prevalence of elder abuse and the high percentage of unreported cases, not every elderly victim of abuse is supported in the ways needed for recovery.
What Can I Do to Help a Recovering Victim of Elder Abuse?
You may think there is little you can do to help, but whether you are a family member or friend, your support is critical for recovery. There are several ways you can help a victim of elder abuse recover from the harm they suffered. Most elderly abuse victims are in need of someone to fully support them. Let’s look at four categories of help you can give your loved one: emotional support, recovery resources, healthy lifestyle support, and plans for future safety.
Provide Emotional Support
“I don’t know what to say.” It’s a common concern for those struggling to support and communicate with a loved one who has faced a horrific situation of abuse. But a caring person to be there and listen is one of the things your recovering loved one needs most. The following tips can help:
- Be ready to start a conversation, no matter how difficult.
- Try not to show discomfort or evasion of certain subjects. Let them lead the conversation.
- Believe the abused person’s story. Don’t accuse or blame them for the abuse.
- Don’t try to offer advice, especially on how they could have avoided the abuse in the first place.
- When discussing the abuser, focus on their behavior, not their person.
- Be available whenever your loved one is ready to talk.
Help the Victim Find Support Resources
Victims of elder abuse frequently experience severe emotional and psychological consequences long after the abuse has ended, particularly if it was recurrent. Know that depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues are not unusual among those who have suffered elder abuse. You can take action to help your loved one find the support resources they need:
- Provide the abuse victim with the names and contact information of abuse survivor groups.
- Help them find counselors and therapists who specialize in help for elder abuse survivors.
- Offer to contact support resources on behalf of your loved one if they express interest.
- Be available to take them to meetings and appointments.
Encourage Healthy Activities
An active social life, hobbies, mental and physical exercise, and creative pursuits are essential to abuse recovery. You can encourage a healthy lifestyle through some of the following ways:
- Help your loved one identify hobbies and activities they enjoy and can do every day.
- Research clubs and social organizations related to your loved one’s interests.
- Help make connections by introducing them to peers they can socialize with.
- Find online groups your loved one can join on a regular basis.
- Buy them supplies for a hobby like painting, knitting, origami, or gardening.
- Participate in walks, exercise, arts and crafts, and other activities that are accessible to them.
Create a Safety Plan
Sometimes, having a safety plan in place can help to ease anxiety, in addition to providing a safety net in case something goes wrong. Each time you visit your relative or friend, go over the details of the safety plan to make sure they are comfortable and familiar with all parts of the plan. Depending on your loved one’s circumstances, some of the following tips may apply more than others:
- Make a list of emergency contacts to keep on their person (including family, friends, doctors, caregivers, and abuse hotlines).
- Come up with a code word they can use to alert family and friends of a problem.
- Ask a neighbor or roommate to be alert for signs of danger and call for help if needed.
- Pack a bag and agree on a nearby destination to meet if they need to leave a situation suddenly.
- Provide a cell phone programmed with family members and friends on speed dial.
- Ask a police officer to come by to check in if you suspect an abuser may return.
What Can I Do to Help Prevent Elder Abuse?
If your family has made the decision that a nursing home is the safest and best place for your aging loved one, it is important to make sure you are choosing the right long-term care facility. Take the time to research the complaint history of a nursing home, and consider whether the nursing home is under public or private ownership. Make sure that facility staff are expert care-providers in the areas your loved one needs most. Understanding the factors that increase mortality rates in nursing home residents can help you know what to look for in the kind of care the nursing home provides its residents.
Spending quality time with your loved one is all-important. Strong social relationships have an immense impact on a person’s overall physical and emotional health. Additionally, if abuse is allowed to occur under a nursing home’s roof, it is unlikely that that abuse will be reported to you and other family members. If you are not able to live with your aging family member, make sure you are investing time in their life and are able to observe any signs that something may not be right. Educate yourself on the types of abuse that most commonly occur among the older adult population so you are able to look for the signs of elder abuse.
What Type of Elder Abuse is Most Common?
There are regrettably few studies which have been able to provide conclusive statistics about the prevalence of elder abuse in nursing homes. It is estimated that for every one incident of abuse reported to authorities, 24 additional cases go unreported. Many wonder: how often does elder abuse occur? The answer may be much higher than we hope to believe. Investigations can become difficult if not impossible when a nursing home facility is unwilling to allow investigations to be conducted.
One study determined that roughly one in six older adults experienced elder abuse in 2019. Based on research findings, the prevalence of each type of nursing home abuse was as follows:
- Psychological Abuse (33.4%)
- Physical and Sexual Abuse (16%)
- Financial Abuse (13.8%)
- Neglect (11.6%)
Older adults who live independently, with family members, or under the care of a home healthcare aide may be more likely to experience different kinds of abuse than those living in nursing homes. Some studies have found, for example, that individuals residing in a community setting may have higher rates of sexual abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation compared to long-term care facility residents.
What Are the Signs of Elder Abuse?
The signs listed below are indications that elder abuse may have occurred. If you observe any of the following symptoms, or any other abnormal behavior or occurrence when spending time with an elderly loved one, contact an authority who can help. We will discuss methods of reporting abuse in the next section.
The following list, while not comprehensive, covers some of the most common signs based on the type of abuse:
- Inattention to personal hygiene
- Malnourishment or dehydration
- Dirty clothes and bed linens
Emotional or Psychological Abuse
- Changes in habits and behaviors
- Silence or unwillingness to talk about their life
- Fear, nervousness, anxiety, or depression
- Changes in attitudes toward caregivers
Physical or Sexual Abuse
- Bruises, broken bones, signs of physical restraint, or other unexplained injuries
- Exhibiting feelings of depression, shame, or guilt
- Withdrawing from social activities and hobbies
- Broken glasses, torn clothes, or other damaged property
- Unpaid bills despite adequate financial resources
- Changes to the names on wills, bank accounts, or credit cards
- Large, unexplained withdrawals from accounts, or missing property
- Suspicious purchases the accountholder would not normally make
What Should I Do If I Suspect Elder Abuse?
A person who commits elder abuse should never be allowed to continue contact with the victim. Always dial 911 immediately if you believe a person’s life may be in danger. There are further steps to take to report a nursing home where you believe abuse may have occurred or is occurring. If you observe or suspect abuse, contact a local police station, a long-term care ombudsman, or call the Pennsylvania elder abuse hotline. With additional questions, reach out to a lawyer who specializes in protecting the rights of older adults. Our attorneys at Shrager & Sachs will begin with a free discussion of your loved one’s case.