Too Bad to be True: The Reality of Elder Abuse

elder man with doctor, nursing home abuse lawyer

When most people think of domestic abuse, it probably brings to mind child abuse or spouse abuse. But there is another type of abuse that is very common, and that often goes unreported. This is abuse of the elderly. When this type of mistreatment is examined more closely, the extent of it can be hard to accept. With the elderly population continuing to increase in Illinois and around the nation, it is time to face the problem.

Elder abuse is everywhere, from the home to long-term care facilities like nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. Reports from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Center on Elder Abuse show that between 7-10 percent of the elderly experience abuse or neglect every year. Very few of these abuses ever get reported, probably because in 9 out of 10 cases the abuser is a family member. The abuse can take many different forms, including:

  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Sexual
  • Abandonment or neglect
  • Self-neglect

The impact of this abuse is hard to put into words, but one stunning statistic makes it clear. Victims of abuse have their risk of death increase by 300%. This holds true for all abuse. Any amount of abuse is too much, and can ruin the last years of a person’s life.

Who are the Abusers?

While 90% of those abusing the elderly are directly related to the victim, much abuse also takes place in nursing homes or other types of care facilities. The statistics here are pretty saddening as well. A 2010 survey of nursing home workers found that more than half of them admitted to abusing someone in their care during the previous year. The majority of these self-reported abuses were through neglect.

A previous survey from the 1990s uncovered similar numbers among Certified Nursing Assistants. 17% of these direct caregivers said that they had physically hit, pushed or shoved a patient. More than half said they had yelled at a patient, while 23% had verbally abused a patient through insults or swearing. Another survey out of Great Britain around the same time showed similar statistics. So this is not only a state or national epidemic. It is an international one.

Elder Abuse in Illinois

There is no indication that elder abuse is any less prevalent in Illinois than in other parts of the nation. However, the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act of 1992 gives residents more rights than in other states. A resident of a nursing home in Illinois is able to bring action against the facility in any event that caused harm or injury and was not accidental. This will usually be with the help of an Illinois nursing home abuse attorney.

Under this act, nursing home residents also received a patient’s bill of rights. This guarantees them access to all of the rights that every other citizen enjoys, plus other specific rights that apply to their being a nursing home resident. These include the right to choose their own doctor, manage their own finances to the best of their abilities, and choose their own clothing. Violation of this bill of rights gives the elderly and their family members reason and grounds to create a complaint against a nursing home and its staff.

Avoiding Abuse

It is extremely difficult for the elderly to avoid abuse or the side-effects of abuse while living in a long-term care facility. In a study of interviews of more than 2,000 residents, 44% had directly experienced abuse, while 95% reported being neglected or seeing neglect of a fellow resident. While this study came out in the year 2000, if the situation has not changed it means that almost no resident of a nursing home has not been affected by abuse. If all of these cases were reported and acted upon, it would keep an Illinois nursing home abuse attorney busy for a long time.

Elder abuse is clearly an epidemic. With the number of elderly continuing to increase as the Baby Boomers retire and need long-term care, it might be an epidemic that is here to stay. So how can family members and friends protect the elderly who need to stay in a nursing home? Just like with any other type of abuse, the victim needs to know that they are heard and believed. An Illinois nursing home abuse attorney can also help to defend the victim.

For family members and caregivers, it is important to realize that abuse happens frequently and takes many different forms. The trust placed in a nursing home to provide comfort and care for the elderly is violated much more often than many would like to think. Defending the elderly from abuse should become a priority that families and facilities meet together.