Published: September 29, 2020 | Brian L. Elstein, Esq.

When an elderly loved one is no longer able to care for themselves, families often choose to place them in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Others hire professionals to offer in-home care.

Regardless, this decision involves trusting someone else to responsibly and compassionately tend to a vulnerable loved one’s needs. Unfortunately, some people betray that trust. Research indicates elder abuse is on the rise in the United States, which is partially due to an increase in the elderly population.

Therefore, if you’re hiring anyone to care for your elderly family member or friend, you need to be familiar with the signs of elder abuse. This information is also important if you’re trusting another relative, family member, or anyone else to care for your elder, whether they are a professional or not. Additionally, it is beneficial to know what you can and should do to hold the responsible parties accountable. While you’ll hopefully never discover an elderly loved one has been the victim of abuse, if you do, you could pursue compensation accordingly with the help of an attorney.

Types of Elder Abuse and Warning Signs

Elder abuse can take a variety of forms. They include:

  • Physical abuse: Intentionally causing bodily harm in any way.
  • Neglect: Failing to provide for an elderly person’s needs.
  • Emotional abuse: Psychological abuse that may involve name-calling, verbal threats, forced isolation, etc.
  • Sexual abuse: Inappropriate and unwanted sexual contact.
  • Financial abuse: Taking advantage of an elderly person for financial gain.
  • Abandonment: Abandoning an elderly person in a setting/situation where they do not have a plan for their immediate or future care.

There are also a wide range of warning signs that elder abuse is taking place. The following are among the more common:

  • Bed sores: If a loved one has developed bed sores, it’s possible they’ve been neglected.
  • Poor nutrition: Signs of dehydration and/or malnutrition (such as loss of weight, changed mental state, etc.) are also signs of neglect.
  • Injuries: Injuries that require treatment, such as broken bones, fractures, or burns may be the result of abuse.
  • Changes in behavior: Both emotional and physical abuse can trigger significant changes in a person’s mood and behavior. Some may become withdrawn when they were formerly jovial and happy. Others may become prone to uncharacteristic emotional outbursts.
  • Unexplained wounds: When seeing an elderly loved one, keep an eye out for any unexplained cuts, bruises, etc.
  • Rapid weight changes: Weight loss isn’t the only sign of potential neglect. Sudden weight gain can also indicate an elderly person’s diet is inconsistent.
  • Isolation: Does an elderly loved one appear to be socially isolated? This can be another indication that there is abuse. It’s also not uncommon for abused elderly people to become non-communicative in general.
  • Fear: Sometimes abused elderly people appear frightened, apprehensive, or peculiarly quiet in the presence of certain staff members. Fear may also take the form of “clinginess,” such as begging you not to leave.
  • Dirty clothing: Dirty clothing (particularly soiled clothing) may result from neglect.
  • Unsanitary living conditions: Neglect may be occurring if your loved one’s living conditions (or the facility itself) are unsanitary.
  • Financial warning signs: Signs of financial abuse include unexplained financial changes, unpaid bills, changes to power of attorney, and any other “red flags” potentially related to financial circumstances.
  • Broken personal items: An sign that’s easy to overlook, yet very important, is broken glasses, dentures or other items.

Relevant Elder Abuse Laws

Research from the National Council on Aging indicates one in 10 Americans 60 years of age or older have experienced some form of elder abuse in their lives. This continues to be a widespread problem despite many laws and acts being put in place specifically to protect the elderly. They include the following:

Nursing Home Reform Act

Congress passed the Nursing Home Reform Act in 1987 to ensure that elderly residents of nursing homes receive care that meets a high standard.

Elder Justice Act of 2009

This act requires employees and operators of nursing homes to file official reports of suspected abuse with the office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. 

Older Americans Act

The Older Americans Act authorized funding for the National Center on Elder Abuse. It provides definitions for the various types of elder abuse that may occur. Through NCEA funding, it also provides training designed to help professionals in relevant settings identify signs of elder abuse.

Per these examples, if someone has committed elder abuse, they’ve broken the law. They have also taken advantage of their victim in a way that entitles said victim to compensation. 

However, it’s worth noting that taking legal action when an elderly loved one has been the victim of elder abuse isn’t simply about securing the proper compensation for their pain. It’s also about protecting others.

This is due to the deterrent effect of lawsuits. If a nursing home operator sees no major punishment for allowing nursing home abuse to continue under their watch, they may have no incentive not to continue overlooking the problem in the future. On the other hand, if they are punished in the form of a lawsuit, they’ll be more inclined to make the necessary changes. This ensures future residents are less likely to be the victims of abuse.

What to Do When You Suspect Elder Abuse

It’s crucial to take certain essential steps when you suspect someone is the victim of elder abuse. The steps are:

  • Taking notes: You want to take thorough, detailed notes about any and all signs that give you reason to suspect abuse is occurring. Depending on the nature of the signs, you may also document them in other ways. For example, if an elderly person has unexplained bruises, you can take pictures of them. Just be careful to avoid a violation of privacy, which may be a concern depending on the specific circumstances. Your notes should also include the dates and times you interacted with the person who you suspect is being abused.
  • Interviewing: You should understand that you’re not responsible for proving that abuse is occurring. That’s a job for the authorities and professionals. Thus, if you feel you have sufficient evidence from your notes alone to report suspected abuse to the authorities, you can do so. If not, you may want to supplement your evidence by interviewing the elderly person who may be the victim of abuse, and staff members at the facility where the abuse is potentially happening. In some situations, it might also be possible to interview the loved ones of former residents who suspected abuse.
  • Don’t delay: The points made above shouldn’t give you the impression that you ought to conduct a lengthy investigation before taking action. You simply want to collect enough evidence to point the authorities in the right direction after you report the suspected abuse. However, it’s best to contact them sooner rather than later. It’s essential that abuse be put to a stop as soon as possible if it’s genuinely occurring.

If you genuinely believe there’s even a chance that a loved one is the victim of elder abuse, you should also seriously consider removing them from the setting where the abuse may be taking place right away. This won’t prevent the authorities from conducting their investigation. It will merely prevent your loved one’s abuser from continuing to victimize them.

State Elder Abuse Resources

The laws covered earlier are federal. Each state also has its own specific resources and laws regarding elder abuse. You can find state-level information on this topic via the U.S. DOJ Elder Justice Initiative website. Here, you can select a state to find information about how to report abuse, how to ensure an elderly person receives proper nutrition through food programs, where nearby elder abuse shelters are located, and more.

The Value of Legal Counsel

If a professional investigation reveals abuse was happening, you could seek compensation for your loved one with the help of an attorney. For instance, your loved one’s injuries may have required treatment. They could thus be compensated for their medical bills.

That’s just one example of an expense for which a victim of abuse may be entitled to compensation. Additionally, they may also be compensated for vaguer factors, such as any emotional distress resulting from the abuse. An attorney can help you secure what your loved one deserves. Remember, taking legal action may also ensure others don’t end up being the victims of abuse.

How Elstein Legal Can Help

Do you know an elderly person in Miami or the surrounding area who has been the victim of elder abuse? If so, Elstein Legal is here to provide the support you need. Attorney Brian L. Elstein had substantial experience providing injury victims, medical malpractice victims, elder abuse victims, and numerous others with aggressive and effective representation. To schedule a free consultation, contact Elstein Legal online today.

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