July is World Elder Abuse Awareness Month, serving as a reminder to our Cooper City nursing home abuse lawyers that this is more than a Florida problem. It’s more than a U.S. problem. It’s a global problem that deserves our time, attention and dedication.
The Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse & Neglect at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine reports that a staggering 1 in 10 older adults will experience some form of abuse during their golden years. Last year, the Special Investigations Division of the House Government Reform Committee found that 1 in 3 nursing homes had been cited for some form of abuse or neglect over the previous two years.
And yet, abuse of the elderly is a situation that often continues to go unnoticed, unreported, unpunished.
The National Institute of Justice reported that elder neglect and abuse may contribute significantly to a number of conditions, including depression, bed sores and malnutrition.
Those aren’t the only forms it can take, but because it bears resemblance to conditions that are common in the elderly, physicians and family members may be less likely to detect it. When you factor in issues like dementia, it significantly reduces the doctor or family member’s confidence in a report of abuse or neglect by a patient – if they even manage to make one.
The NIJ found that even when there was clear indication of abuse or neglect, doctors were reluctant to report them because they wanted to avoid the risk of being compelled to testify in court, especially if all they were acting upon was strong suspicion and not 100 percent proof.
Part of the problem we face right now in this arena is that there are very few explicit “markers” to indicate definitively when elder abuse may be occurring. We are getting slightly better, officials say, when it comes to recognizing some of the symptoms, but creating a system for reporting those suspicions has been an ongoing challenge.
As Dr. Mark Lachs, the co-chief of geriatrics and gerontology at Cornell University, put it, medical and forensic science with regard to elder neglect and abuse is about 30 years behind where we are with reporting of child abuse and neglect. Looking ahead, what Lachs indicates is truly needed to prevent elder abuse is the establishment of multidisciplinary teams to investigate claims of elder abuse. This is particularly important when you have concerned health care workers who either don’t have the expertise or the time to investigate these claims or suspicions themselves.
One thing that doctors and family members can look for is a pattern. For example, we know that falls among elderly people are more likely to lead to fractured bones than someone who is younger. One case may not necessarily be indicative of abuse, though it could. However, if there are a pattern of falls within a single facility, that’s a red flag and a sure sign that there is a problem. Nursing homes have a duty to closely monitor patients and do all they can to prevent falls or other situations where patients might injure themselves.
We still have a long way to go in terms of curbing elder abuse. By remaining vigilant and open to exploring situations that just don’t seem right, our Cooper City nursing home abuse lawyers are confident we will continue to make strides.
Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Elder Abuse Roundtable: Detection and Diagnosis, Oct. 18, 2000, National Institute of Justice
More Blog Entries:
Nursing Home Abuse Vastly Underreported, June 8, 2013, Cooper City Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog