The 2010 Census recorded more than 40 million people age 65 and older in the U.S. These "Baby Boomers" represent the largest segment of our population, and within two decades they are expected to comprise more than 20 percent of our entire population.
Unfortunately, many of our older population suffer abuse inflicted upon them by their caregivers. This is the result of many factors, but the most important is that the elderly are often forced to rely on others for their care, because of physical infirmity or mental incapacity. Such vulnerabilities lead to different types of abuse, including physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, sexual abuse and financial exploitation.
In the sections that follow, we'll look at the frequency of elder abuse, with a focus on the extent of the problem in the nursing home setting.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define “elder abuse” as “any abuse and neglect of persons age 60 and older by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust.”
According to the Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging, we really do not know exactly how many persons experience elder abuse or neglect. There are a number of reasons why the data is so fuzzy. For one, many people are reluctant to report incidents of abuse and neglect, including the victims themselves and those who were responsible for ensuring their care. Additionally, many people who work with the elderly lack the requisite training to properly identify signs of abuse or neglect.
Having said all that, a number of recent studies have helped to shed light on the extent of the problem of elder abuse.
A 2010 study conducted by Cornell University and the New York City Department for the Aging, Under The Radar: New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, made the following findings:
Another report (the "National Elder Mistreatment Study") found that seven to 10 percent of all persons surveyed experienced some form of abuse in the previous 12 months.
It is an unfortunate fact that abuse occurs in all types of environments. Nursing homes are not immune. In fact, studies have shown that older persons who live in community settings -- such as nursing homes -- are abused more often than older persons living in other settings. More than three million persons currently live in nursing homes in our country.
In 2000, studies conducted by the National Center on Elder Abuse of more than 2,000 nursing home residents found that 44% of them had been abused, and 95% of those surveyed reported that they had been neglected or had seen others neglected. Perhaps even more compelling, those same studies found that more than 50% of nursing home staff admitted to mistreating nursing home patients.
Depending on the nature of the abuse, the effects can be short-term in nature, or fairly permanent.
Physical abuse can result in bodily injury and permanent physical disability.
Emotional and psychological abuse, while causing an immediate impact on the victim’s mental state, can also manifest itself in long-term physical problems.
Financial exploitation can result in the depletion of a person’s financial resources, limiting access to much needed medical treatment and long-term care. Perhaps the most significant effect of elder abuse was documented in the 2010 report Elder Neglect and Abuse and Mortality Risk In A Community-Dwelling Population. That study found that older person who experienced abuse of any type or any degree had a risk of death 300% higher than other elderly persons.
If you suspect that a loved one might have experienced mistreatment in a nursing home, it is important to report that abuse to the proper authorities. Depending on the nature of the alleged abuse, it may be appropriate to contact local law enforcement. You may also want to contact a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer in your area to discuss your situation and your legal options.