A review article published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine reveals a deeply troubling statistic: 1 in every 10 older adults is a victim of some form of violence or abuse.
Worse, researchers point out, this figure is all but certainly a vast underestimate considering it’s based on self-reported cases. When you consider that many victims suffer from dementia or isolation that makes them prime targets to start, these individuals may not have the ability to report what’s happening to them.
Still, even this estimate underscores how widespread the problem is, and the fact that families must be on alert for potential problems.
Interestingly, although elder abuse has been in existed in some form since the dawn of humanity, it wasn’t described by Western researchers until the early 1970s. In most cases, attempts to define the problem or respond to it have largely been limited because most studies focused on a small number of anecdotes. Even those that attempted to broaden the understanding were mostly flawed epidemiologically. That has started to change in the last decade, and that’s how we have come to this greater understanding about how serious this problem actually is.
The first step, researchers noted, was defining what abuse actually is. There is now consensus about five different types:
- Physical abuse – acts carried out with aim of causing injury or physical pain;
- Psychological or verbal abuse – acts carried out with intention to cause emotional injury or pain;
- Sexual abuse – nonconsensual sexual contact of any kind;
- Financial exploitation – misappropriation of an older person’s money or property;
- Neglect – Failure of designated caregiver to meet the needs of an older person who is dependent.
Given the pervasiveness of the problem, that tell us many people come in contact with someone who is suffering abuse on regular basis. However, they may not recognize the signs of a problem in order to address it.
Some of the risks factors identified across the spectrum include:
- Younger age (“young-old”)
- Lower income
- Isolation/ lack of support
Elder abuse has the potential to cause pain, traumatic injury and death, researchers noted. It also greatly increases the chances a person will be placed in a nursing home. It increases the chances of hospitalization and is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and other negative outcomes.
One of the researchers pointed out that many cases “don’t resolve magically.” They can take months or years to resolve, and some victims are never the same.
The study authors put a great deal of responsibility for recognizing elder and nursing home abuse on physicians. A busy doctor may see an estimated 2,400 patients annually, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. That means they are seeing 240 patients who are victims of some form of abuse. They are going to be the first line of defense in many cases.
This is especially true for doctors who treat patients of nursing homes. That’s because these patients are often very isolated and may be more prone to suffer illnesses that prevent them from being vocal about mistreatment.
As we approach the holidays, where families are more likely to be visiting with older relatives, it is important they too become knowledgeable about the basics of abuse and what to look for.
If a loved one has been a victim of nursing home abuse in South Florida, our experienced attorneys are on hand to answer your questions.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Elder Abuse, Nov. 12, 2015, Review Article, The New England Journal of Medicine
More Blog Entries:
Nursing Home Fall Dangers Highlighted in Several Recent Cases, Nov. 17, 2015, Hollywood Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog