According to the World Health Organization (WHO), elderly abuse is a violation of human rights and significant cause of illness, injury, loss of productivity, isolation and despair.
It’s something no one wants to think about, let alone actually witness, but truth be told, abuse of our country’s elderly is not only a problem but it is increasingly common. And with a baby boomer population that is finally reaching senior status, chances are that it will only get worse. If you are in a professional capacity working with the elderly in a hospital, clinic or assisted-living facility and suspect a patient may be the victim of abuse, you must act to help put perpetrators behind bars and prevent it from further occurrence.
- Physical Injury: Odd bruising and injuries that don’t align with what the patient is describing. It’s true that many elderly people are unsteady in the older age and injury themselves without a great amount of exertion, but when the injuries seem to occur frequently, they may warrant a closer look. Many times due to medication, illness or age they may not remember exactly how the injury occurred, this is why as a healthcare professional you will need to become their advocate and speak up for them. It is sickening to hear reports of what occurs behind nursing home doors, but physical abuse can and does happen, and it is not just limited to outright physical violence. Shaking, force-feeding, pushing, striking with (without) an object, and shoving are among some of the types of reported and documented abuses portrayed upon helpless victims. If you notice that some of their personal effects are broken or missing (like eyeglasses) or if they are fearful to be alone with a particular co-worker, do not dismiss their claims, there may be more going on than meets the eye.
- Sexual Abuse: It is a crime that goes beyond head-shaking and utter disgust, but unfortunately, does occur and the repercussions are far-reaching. Forcing a victim to undergo sexual abuse (no matter what age) is reprehensible, but perpetrated upon victims who, for medical and social reasons, are unable to stand up for themselves makes it even more egregious. Yet, there have been arrests made for those who have forced themselves upon incapacitated victims, even photographing their acts. Those who are abused may be reluctant to share their abuse due to shame or incapacity, but as a care-provider, it you are seeing a pattern of bruising in the genital area, torn or stained undergarments or unexplained bleeding, you must act on their behalf.
- Neglect: If you notice that a patient has bedsores or seems unkempt or ill-dressed, appears thin and malnourished, chances are their abuse is in the form of neglect. Don’t forget that this is someone’s loved one and speaking up will not only put a light on the abuse but will help prevent further damage.
What to do next?
The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) serves as a national resource center dedicated to the prevention of elder mistreatment. First established by the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA) in 1988 as a national elder abuse resource center, the NCEA was granted a permanent home at AoA in the 1992 amendments made to Title II of the Older Americans Act [To locate your State Resource: visit National Center on Elder Abuse.]
If you suspect abuse, you must act. Even if you cannot present physical proof of the alleged abuse, your actions could be what ultimately saves someone’s life. Leave evidence up to the investigators to find, if you feel that you are dealing with a victim of abuse, it is in your patient’s best interest for you to make that initial contact. Some states have hotlines available in order to begin the investigation process; otherwise placing a call to 911 will at least get the ball rolling. Make sure to have the victim’s name, physical address and phone number ready for authorities. Remember how much your parent’s looked after your own well-being while growing up, it’s time to make sure that they are equally cared for.
GUEST AUTHOR: Kathryn Norcutt has been an active member of the health care community for over 20 years. During her time as a nurse, she has helped people from all walks of life and ages. Now, Kathryn leads a much less hectic life and devotes much of her free time to writing for RN Network, a site specializing in RN jobs