Abuse of the elderly comes in many forms. Physical, sexual, financial, and emotional or psychological abuse are all serious problems both within the home and within nursing facilities. Physical abuse is any form of physical assault or violence against a victim that results in a degree of injury, such as pushing, tripping, hitting, kicking, or even inappropriately restraining a patient. Physical abuse can result in not only minor to life-threatening injuries, it can also have severe emotional, psychological, and social ramifications for the victim.
There are currently more than 40 million people in the United States over the age of 65, and that number continues to increase each year. There are over 15,000 nursing homes and 1.7 million licensed beds in across the country along with nearly 1 million residents living in long-term residential facilities. Different studies have revealed alarmingly high rates of abuse of all kinds in these homes. For example, the Special Investigations Division of the House Government Reform Committee performed an analysis on 5,283 nursing homes and found that 30% were cited for abuse and neglect between 1999 and 2001. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that for every case of elder abuse and neglect which is reported, 23 cases remain hidden. Physical abuse is estimated to affect about 15% of elder abuse cases.
Causes of Physical Abuse in Nursing Homes
It might be hard to understand by physical abuse occurs, but there are a few common causes. Often, staff who are caring for elderly patients do not have the training to deal with unpleasant or unexpected situations. This lack of training, often combined with a deficiency in the number of staff members, can lead to anger and frustration which comes out in the form of physical abuse. Even if the abuse is not maliciously intended, its effects are just as serious and the abuser is equally as liable.
Physical abuse can also be perpetrated by other residents in the home. Often, this abuse occurs outside of supervision and can be hard to identify if the nursing home is not vigilant. If you suspect this kind of inter-residential abuse is occurring, you may wish to alert the staff, who might be able to provide enhanced monitoring and ascertain whether or not your suspicions are correct. If the suspected abuse continues, it may be time to contact a personal injury attorney.
Types of Physical Abuse
Physical abuse comes in many forms. While it is difficult to imagine perpetrating violence on a vulnerable and dependent individual, the following list shows some of the possible types of physical abuse that elderly patients commonly experience:
- Being pushed, tripped, or shoved, then blamed for falling
- Use of chemical or physical restraints that are not prescribed by a physician
- Burns (often by cigarettes)
- Bites, hits, or scratches
- Threats of assault with weapons such as guns, knives, or other objects
- Lack of access to healthy food, water, clean and warm clothing, and sanitary conditions
Effects of Physical Abuse
The physical signs of elder abuse can range from minor to severe and can include
- Cuts, welts, and bruises, particularly “wraparound” bruises on the arm which indicate rough handling of a patient
- Sprained joints, broken bones, or dislocations
- Internal pain or bleeding
- Head, neck, or back injuries
- Sudden hair or tooth loss
- Abrasions or sores that look like they could come from ropes or straps used to physically restrain a patient
Warning Signs for Chronic Elder Abuse
You may initially assume that physical abuse would be easy to spot in an elderly victim. Sometimes, it is obvious, and you might notice the unexplained bruises, broken bones, or cuts. However, sometimes chronic abuse can go under the radar for an extended period of time. In addition, not every injury is a sign of abuse, but, as a family member of a nursing home resident, you can look for telltale signs of physical abuse that may signal cause for alarm.
- A pattern of hospital visits and unexplained injuries
- Untreated injuries or injuries which the victim does not want to be treated by a professional
- Limping, due to unaddressed pain
- Lack of appetite or unexplained weight loss
- Malnutrition, dehydration, and bedsores
- Insufficient or confusing explanations for obvious injuries
- Different stories from different staff about how an injury in a resident occurred
- Withdrawal of the victim from social activities that were formerly enjoyed
- Development of depression and anxiety
- General deterioration of health, including increased vulnerability to infections and viruses
Elderly people, like most victims, may be reluctant to come forward with information about their abuser because they are afraid that this will intensify the abuse. Elderly residents are especially vulnerable because they are dependent upon their caretakers for basic needs like food, water, safety, and even access to their friends and family. In addition, victims may feel that do not want to be a burden to their family by complaining about the abusive treatment they are receiving at the hands of the staff.
Steps to Take if Physical Abuse is Suspected
The first step to take in most cases of physical abuse is to make sure that your loved one has access to quality medical care. If you feel that the nursing home is not providing that care, it may be best to take the resident to another doctor or hospital to get them evaluated for any recent or older, undetected injuries that may have occurred under the care of the home. This physical evaluation can additionally be used as evidence if you decide to move forward with a lawsuit.
If you are afraid that reporting the nursing home to authorities might increase your loved one's risk of physical abuse, it is best to remove them from the home. This might not always be necessary, but it depends on the nursing home's administration and your relationship with the staff. You can report suspected elder abuse to an Adult Protective Services (APS) organization in your state, who may open an investigation into the matter if they deem it appropriate. You may also contact your local ombudsman, a government official that evaluates long-term care facilities. In certain situations, especially those involving sexual or physical assault, law enforcement can also assist you.
Although criminal charges against the home may be filed, a personal injury lawsuit is the only way to collect compensation for the pain and suffering inflicted on your loved one. For a free case evaluation, call trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian today at 800.529.6162 or contact us online.