According to the United States Department of Justice, only about 1 in every 23 cases of elder abuse is reported to authorities. Elder abuse may go unreported for a variety of reasons, including fear, shame, and lack of power or access to resources. Additionally, low rates of reporting can be attributed to the fact that many elderly people with dementia, who are statistically more likely to experience abuse, are often unable to report their assaults. Due to low rates of reporting, it is impossible to determine exactly how many people suffer from elder abuse every year; however, a study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015 estimated that roughly 10% of Americans over the age of 60 experience elder abuse annually. Researchers considered this statistic an underestimate because it was based on self-reported data, and as previously noted, victims of elder abuse frequently do not report instances of abuse for various reasons.
A study conducted in 2012, which surveyed a random population of 452 Michigan residents with elderly relatives (people 65 years or older) living in nursing homes, concluded that “some 24.3% of respondents reported at least one incident of physical abuse by nursing home staff.” This statistic is staggering as it does not account for the other types of elder abuse—emotional/verbal/psychological or financial abuse—likely to occur in nursing homes.
In 2014, 1.4 million elderly people resided in nursing homes across the United States, and as the baby boomer generation nears retirement, the U.S. can expect that number to skyrocket. As more Americans begin to inhabit nursing homes, it is imperative that relatives educate themselves on the signs of elder abuse. Elder abuse is any physical, sexual, emotional/verbal/psychological, or financial abuse of an elderly person. To ensure the safety of one of American’s most vulnerable populations, it is important to recognize and understand the ways in which elder abuse can affect a victim’s physical and mental health as well as his or her financial situation.
Common Signs of Nursing Home Abuse/Neglect
- Any inexplicable and/or recurrent injuries, such as bruises or grip marks, broken bones, scratches, and burns
- Dismissal of expressed concern regarding injuries
- Refusal to seek medical care for injuries
- Sexual abuse:
- Vaginal or anal bleeding that cannot be explained by a medical condition
- Bloody or ripped clothing (specifically underwear)
- Contusions on or around the breasts, buttocks, or genital area
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Emotional/verbal/psychological abuse:
- Sudden, unusual, and inexplicable changes in the older person’s mood and/or behavior, such as abrupt decrease in energy, withdrawal from typical activities, isolation from friends and family, unreasonable fear or distrust, and unusual depression
- Frequent arguments between the elderly person and his or her caregiver
- Financial abuse:
- Sudden changes in the elderly person’s financial situation
- Inconsistencies between the elderly person’s living conditions, health care, or public benefits and what is known about his or her financial assets
- Unusual ATM activity, large withdrawals from bank accounts, forged checks, as well as switching names on wills, deeds, life insurance policies, and bank accounts
- Sudden weight loss, lack of food and water
- Poor hygiene, dirty clothing, unchanged wound dressings
- Untreated medical issues
- Absence of necessary medical aids, such as walkers, glasses, dentures, and medications
- Person with dementia left unattended