Recognizing Signs of Elder Abuse: Keeping Your Older Adult Safe

You might think it can never happen to your older adult… You’ve done extensive research on the intensive care facility you’re sending them to, have spoken with former patients and their caregivers, and taken a tour of the facility with your older adult. All signs point to yes, this place is a safe place for your older adult to stay while they work on their recovery, that the staff is attentive and courteous, and the facilities they have will prove to be more than helpful. The concept of your older adult getting abused seems far-fetched, a paranoid, anxiety-driven delusion driven by the thought of leaving them in someone else’s care.

Unfortunately, elder abuse is more common than you’d probably think, especially given that the numbers of elder abuse cases are still drastically underreported. Even keeping that in mind, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that about 1 in 6 older adults in community settings suffer some type of elder abuse. Making matters worse, the problem is even more prevalent in nursing homes, as the WHO also notes that 2 out of 3 nursing staff have confessed to inflicting some form of abuse on patients in their care.

Elder care

No matter where you send your older adult, there’s a chance they’ll encounter an unhealthy culture that profits off of their degradation or an employee on a power trip that isn’t supervised closely enough.

Short of changing your plans abruptly and putting them in at-home care, which few can afford to do, all you can do is stay vigilant for signs of misconduct. They can be hard to detect at first, especially if you haven’t gone through this process before.

Fortunately, the symptoms of elder abuse tend to follow specific patterns. While the list below is an aggregate of the most common signs of elder abuse, it’s by no means extensive enough, so if you suspect any foul play on the nursing home’s part, feel free to investigate anything that appears sketchy.

Fear or Anger Towards Staff Members.

Often times, if elder abuse is occurring in any way, your older adult will find a way (whether they’re aware of it or not) to communicate their need to you. If you notice that your older adult has a disproportionately negative opinion of a particular staff member or seems angry or afraid of that staff member, further investigation might be warranted. The same goes for if your older adult appears to be withdrawing from activities they used to enjoy, or seems possessed by moody or depressive spells; these may be signs of emotional abuse on the part of staff, or removal of their agency when you aren’t around.

On that note, when visiting a nursing home, be sure to try and witness how staff members treat patients under their care. The odd snippy comment here and there can be forgiven, as that staff member might be having a bad day, and nursing staff members are typically overworked and undersupported. However, if you notice a pattern of cruel or irritable behavior on the part of the staff, don’t put your older adult in that facility.

Strange Bruises, Repeated Accidents.

Keeping your older adult safe should be the top priority for any caretaking facility you put them in, and while the occasional accident can be forgiven (as there’s no accounting for random, cruel chance) if you notice that the same accident is happening over and over again, something fishy is going on. At best, it’s a case of negligence, as your older adult’s caretakers are not doing the bare minimum to prevent another accident. At worst, your older adult may be being physically abused, and the facility may be trying to cover it up.

Pay special attention to bruises on the posterior or groin area, as these can be signs of sexual abuse. If you notice anything of the sort cropping up on your older adult, remove them from that situation and contact a reliable legal team immediately.

See the Evil, Hear the Evil, Sue the Evil.

If you notice any of these symptoms cropping up after your older adult moves into a nursing home facility, don’t be afraid to take immediate and thorough legal action. In addition to helping your older adult reclaim some agency by securing a victory over their abusers, you can also help establish a precedent that warns other older adults away from the abusive facility. If you decide to put your older adult in a nursing facility and you begin to suspect any kind of abuse is taking place, don’t be afraid to dig into it. Your older adult will need and appreciate your support.