While elder abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, the National Council on Aging estimates that only about one out of every 14 instances of elder abuse are actually reported to authorities. If you have an elderly loved one who is currently residing in a Chicago nursing home, or who has a caretaker in his or her home, it is important that you know the facts. While many nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Chicago—and across the nation—provide quality care to patients and residents, there remains a shockingly high rate of nursing home abuse in our country. In fact, a 2006 report from ABC News suggested that one in every three elderly residents at nursing homes suffer some form of abuse or neglect. When you consider that there may be even less oversight for in-home caregivers, the conclusions are grim.
Elder abuse can be physical, mental/psychological, financial, or sexual. Along with abuse comes elder neglect. Elder neglect can be intentional or unintentional, however, the results are the same. Physical abuse may be at least slightly easier to definitively identify and prove than other types of elder abuse because there are likely obvious signs of the abuse. On the flip side, since the elderly tend to fall more often, physical signs of abuse may go unrecognized. If you believe your elderly loved one is being physically abused—or suffering any type of abuse or neglect—it is important that you contact an experienced Chicago elder abuse attorney from the Finn Law Firm. We will discuss your options for keeping your loved one safe, determining whether the abuse was deliberate and whether you should consider filing a claim for financial compensation.
Signs & Symptoms of Abuse in Nursing Homes
The physical abuse of an elderly person (or any person) is a criminal act and can be criminally prosecuted. That being said, there are issues related directly to the elderly, which can make such a crime more difficult to prosecute. Physical elder abuse victimizes elderly parents, grandparents, and loved ones each and every year. Any form of violence or harm which significantly injures an elderly person is considered physical abuse, Physical abuse can be harder to identify in an older person because the abuser—who is also the caretaker—can explain away bruises and other signs of abuse by saying the elderly person fell or bumped into something.
Since elderly people’s bodies tend to be frailer, and because the elderly may experience dizziness or unsteadiness from an illness, a medication they are taking, or simply from the aging process, family members may more readily accept these explanations. An elderly person may also have been threatened if they tell someone about the abuse or may not tell because they are ashamed it is occurring. Some elderly people may simply not have the communication skills necessary to tell someone about the abuse, due to an illness or disease. Because of this, it is particularly important to look for behavioral changes in the elderly person, along with concrete signs of physical abuse.
There are risk factors that are associated with physical abuse of the elderly, including mental illness. Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia require more care and attention, which can frustrate caregivers, leading to an increased instance of physical abuse. Another risk factor occurs among seniors who live in remote areas or who live far away from their loved ones. These seniors may either be in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or living in their own home or the home of their caregiver.
When there is no one to regularly check up on the senior’s overall condition, the abuser may feel freer to continue the abuse. Because physical, mental, and sexual abuse causes seniors to become withdrawn, their social activities may become very limited, preventing others from noticing the warning signs of abuse. Like those with cognitive impairments, an elderly person with a physical disability is also at a higher risk of abuse.
Physical elder abuse can take the form of slapping, shoving, tripping, hitting, burning, restraining, or kicking the elderly person. Loved ones should look for broken bones, dislocated joints, bruising, contusions, hair or tooth loss, sprains or strains, or restraint marks on the ankles or wrists. Physical elder abuse can also lead to emotional changes in the senior. The victim of physical elder abuse can become withdrawn and uncommunicative. You may notice the senior no longer wants to participate in activities he or she formerly enjoyed. The senior may be unable to explain the injury or injuries, and may show hesitation when asked about the injuries, or may change their story.
You may notice a strained relationship between the caregiver and the senior, and the caregiver may seem reluctant to leave you alone with the senior. Some seniors will stop eating, so a sudden drop in weight should be a warning sign. If the senior has wounds that the caretaker explains away, keep a close watch on the wounds. If they do not heal properly, or new wounds continue to appear, physical abuse may be present. If the caretaker delays seeking medical attention for an injury the elder receives, or if there are trips to different emergency rooms, these are also warning signs of physical elder abuse.
While there is not one overarching cause of physical elder abuse, there are certain factors associated with caregivers who abuse the elderly. Caregivers who were exposed to abuse as a child, are both more likely to abuse their own children, and more likely to abuse an elderly person in their care. Physical elder abuse is often the culmination of years and years of stress from caring for the elderly person, particularly among family members. In a nursing home, a poor staff to resident ratio can lead to overwork and frustration, which, in turn, leads to elder abuse. That being said, there is never an excuse for elder abuse, and physical elder abuse is a criminal act.
Finding out your elderly loved one has been physically abused, perhaps by a person you placed your trust in, can be devastating. You may be unsure of where to turn or may not know what you need to do. Contacting a highly experienced elder abuse attorney from the Finn Law Firm can help you and your loved one get through this difficult time. Larry Finn has thirty years of experience helping people just like you. When you become a client of the Finn Law Firm, you will speak directly to the firm’s principal attorney, Larry Finn, throughout the development of your case. The Finn Law Firm serves the Chicago area and beyond, offering free, comprehensive consultations.