According to the National Council on Aging, approximately one out of every 10 individuals over the age of 59 has experienced some form of elder abuse. Elder abuse manifests most commonly in the following three forms: abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Yes, it seems redundant to categorize “abuse” as a form of “abuse.” However, that categorization makes sense when one considers the two primary definitions of abuse in this context. The broader concept of abuse refers to unlawful mistreatment. Neglect, exploitation, and abuse (as defined below) all meet this overarching definition. By contrast, abuse (as distinct from neglect and exploitation) refers to an action intended to physically, sexually, and/or mentally harm.
Each of these kinds of abuse is pervasive in American society – both in long-term care facilities (including memory care units, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, etc.) and within in-home care situations. Maddeningly, however, most forms of abuse are very difficult to identify with confidence. This reality can serve as an endless source of frustration for loved ones of elderly people who suspect that their elderly family members and/or friends may be suffering as a result of mistreatment but can’t say with certainty that such mistreatment is occurring. As a result, it can be very difficult to prevent further abuse, when the initial abusive behavior can’t be identified with confidence.
One of the greatest challenges that often stands in the way of identifying abuse (and thus, preventing additional abuse from occurring) is that most victims of abuse, neglect, and exploitation aren’t in a position to advocate for themselves. As a result, they ultimately rely on others to identify what is going on and to act on that knowledge.
Many elderly individuals can’t advocate for themselves because they can’t verbalize or otherwise communicate what is happening to them as a result of illness, injury, cognitive and/or communication impediments, and/or advanced age. However, it is critically important to understand that even those elderly individuals who remain mentally sharp and capable of articulating their realities clearly cannot be relied upon to speak up if they are suffering. Why? Many victims are understandably concerned that if they communicate about their abusive situation, they will suffer additional abuse in retaliation. Others are understandably concerned that because abuse is difficult to prove, their concerns will be dismissed. Still others are concerned about burdening their loved ones with this kind of upsetting, private information. In short, if you suspect that your loved one is being abused, the first thing you need to do is refrain from assuming that if your loved one is hurting, they’ll tell you what’s going on. For the reasons outlined above, this is just not a safe assumption to make. Instead, you’ll need to assume that you and you alone are empowered to advocate on behalf of your loved one’s interests. This is not taking power or autonomy away from your loved one. This is recognizing that identifying and preventing elder abuse is a complex reality that can’t usually be approached in ways that other tough subjects can.
There are several things you can do as a loved one when seeking to prevent your loved one from suffering as a result of abuse. First, develop a communication routine and pay close attention if your loved one starts to withdraw from communication and/or their caregivers start to impede your ability to communicate with your loved one as you normally would. One of the first signs that something is wrong involves changes in communication access and/or engagement.
Second, pay close attention to your loved one’s health. If your loved one starts dropping weight, experiencing bruising, has infections related to their reproductive parts, etc. there needs to be a darn good, objectively verifiable explanation for such changes. Otherwise, they could serve as signs of abuse.
Third, keep track of your loved one’s accounts (bank, facility bills, social media, identity-related fraud alerts, etc.). If something seems amiss on any of these accounts, your loved one could be suffering from exploitation.
Fourth, make sure that your loved one is engaged in social activities and remains free to communicate with others as they please. Isolation is a key tactic of those who would seek to abuse your loved one.
Finally, trust your gut. You know your loved one… what is “normal” for another individual might be “abnormal” for them. If something seems off, investigate the cause of the change. If you can’t find a reasonable explanation or if something just doesn’t feel right, seek guidance. Doing so may make a world of difference if your loved one is, indeed, being abused.
If you have concerns that your loved one may be suffering as a result of elder abuse occurring in their nursing home or long-term care facility, please connect with our experienced legal team today. It cannot be stressed enough that it can be difficult to identify elder abuse, neglect, and/or exploitation as these tragedies occur. As a result, it is critically important that loved ones take their suspicions seriously. The primary benefit of investing an hour or two of your time in the free consultation process is that you can receive objective feedback from experienced legal professionals without being obligated or pressured to pursue action of any kind. This process simply allows you to voice your concerns, ask questions, and receive a no-risk, no-fee case evaluation so that you can be better informed when you choose to act – or not – in response to your suspicions concerning your loved one’s situation.
You have nothing to lose but a little bit of your time by speaking to our team. However, depending upon your loved one’s circumstances, you could have a tremendous amount to gain by seeking legal counsel at this time. Please don’t wait. If you’re concerned about your loved one’s safety, your advocacy could mean the difference between justice and additional suffering. That is a significant responsibility to bear, but you don’t have to bear it alone. Our team is here to provide you with any support that you and your loved one need. We look forward to speaking with you.