The 2010 Census recorded the greatest number and proportion of people age 65 and older in all of decennial census history: A total of 40.3 million, or 13% of the total United States population now fall into this category. This “Boomer Generation” effect will continue for decades. By 2050 over 20% of the U.S. population is expected to by age 65 and older. It is projected that by that time there will also be 19 million people aged 85 or older.
Mistreatment of the elderly has become a growing problem. A recent major study has reported that as many as 10% of study participants had been abused the prior year. That study did not include financial abuse, which is another major problem.
Mistreatment can occur in many ways. Sometimes it arises as a result of intentional actions that cause harm or the risk of harm to a vulnerable elderly person. It can also occur as the result of negligence or neglect. This can occur as the result of failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elderly person’s basic living necessities. Caregivers can include home care professionals, family and friends, assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
It is difficult to get an exact sampling of how many people suffer from elder abuse since those who are abused are often disabled or suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and are unable to articulate what has happened. Often the abused elderly person is simply too embarrassed or humiliated to address the abuse. However, studies show that females are abused at a higher rate than males and the older a person is, the more likely he/she is to be abused. Also, those suffering from a form of dementia are at a greater risk.
Approximately 5.1 million people over 65 in the U.S. have some form of dementia. Almost half of all people over 85 have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. A 2010 study found that 47% of participants with dementia had been mistreated by their caregivers.
Elders who experienced even modest abuse have a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who had not been abused.
The impact of abuse, negligence and exploitation with respect to our elderly has a profound impact on our economy as well. The direct medical costs associated with violent injuries to older adults are estimated to add over $5.3 billion to the nation’s annual health expenditures.
A Congressional report prepared by the staff of the Special Investigation Division of the House Government Reform Committee found that 30% of nursing homes in the United States (5,283 facilities) were cited for almost 9,000 instances of abuse over the two year period of January 1999 to January 2001. Studies since then indicate that those statistics have continued to grow.
Common problems often included untreated bedsores, inadequate medical care, malnutrition, dehydration, preventable accidents, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene. In some reported cases, a member of a nursing home’s staff was accused of committing physical or sexual abuse. In others, staff members were cited for failing to protect residents from abuse by other residents.
Clearly, there are reasons for concern if you have an elderly loved one in the care of a nursing home or other type of caregiver. The best way to ensure that they are being properly cared for is to make frequent visits. Here is a list of things to look for and ask about when you visit:
- Compare the overall appearance and alertness of your loved one to their condition on prior visits. Does there seem to be a marked decline?
- Look for bruising about the body.
- Look for bedsores.
- Check to see if medications are being properly administered.
- Speak to staff people and make sure they seem aware of your loved one’s needs.
- If other residents or roommates are able, speak with them about your loved one.
- Make sure that any medical devices that have been prescribed are always readily available for your loved one. (E.g. wheelchairs, bedpans, bed rails, etc)
- Make sure your loved one is being properly fed.
- Speak to your loved one frequently and in depth, if possible, to ensure his/her needs are being properly met.
If you suspect some type of negligence or abuse is occurring you should immediately report it to the administrator of the facility and take steps to remove your loved one from the harm. If the abuse/neglect has resulted in serious harm to your loved one you should contact an attorney who is experienced in handling nursing home abuse/neglect cases. At VanDerGinst Law we have handled numerous such cases and have the experience necessary to ensure that your loved one is removed from harm and is compensated for any damages. It is essential that such claims be pursued, not only on behalf of the loved one who was injured, but also so that the facility, and others like it, learn to take seriously their obligation to the residents in their care. If we can help, we would be honored.