Elder neglect is a form of elder abuse characterized by a lack of care for the elderly person. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) states: “‘Neglect’ means the failure of the facility, its employees or service providers to provide goods and services to a resident that are necessary to avoid physical harm, pain, mental anguish or emotional distress.”
Signs and Symptoms of Elder Neglect and Abuse
Signs of neglect warrant a call to Adult Protective Services (APS). Call the appropriate authorities if you note any of the following:
Overuse of medication may be a form of medical restraint. These types of restraints leave the elderly person sedated and potentially unable to lodge a complaint.
Bedsores are one of the most common signs of neglect. These injuries to the skin occur when the elderly person has not moved for a prolonged period. Many elderly people rely on their caregivers to move them and perform preventative skin care.
Dehydration is a serious concern for the elderly and can lead to kidney problems. The elderly are more likely to suffer from dehydration, especially if they suffer from cognitive impairment or diabetes. A sticky mouth, dark urine, or confusion may all be signs of dehydration.
Malnutrition can occur when an elderly person loses interest in eating. They may have pain when chewing due to dental issues or simply lose their appetite due to medication or some other factor.
Dirty clothes, poor hygiene, and unwashed sheets are unacceptable, especially if the elderly person has a caregiver or lives in a nursing home.
Elder Neglect in Nursing Homes
Cases of elder neglect often occur in understaffed nursing homes. Understaffing is a critical issue in nursing homes today, a problem that was particularly exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Elder neglect cases in nursing homes have included reports of accidental falls, bedsores, and resident-on-resident fights. In one case, a family sued a New Jersey nursing home after their loved one left a nursing home facility at night, only to be found unresponsive on the outside patio the following morning. He died of hypothermia. Nursing homes should have adequate security to prevent residents from wandering away or getting stuck outside.
A Vermont nursing home agreed to a $40,000 fine following allegations that the facilities had failed to adequately supervise the dispensation of medication. This alleged neglect made it possible for staff to sedate a patient with Alzheimer’s using Benadryl.
In California, a lawsuit against a nursing home resulted in a $30.9 million verdict. According to the suit, understaffing and elder neglect led one resident to develop stage 4 bedsores. Stage 4 bedsores penetrate to the bone and can develop life-threatening infections. The nursing home allegedly did not hire sufficient staff as a way to save money and increase profits.
Elder Neglect by Family
Cases involving family members can be complex. The family may want to get their elderly relative help, only to be met with resistance from a senior who may not want to relocate to a nursing home facility or change their living situation. On the other hand, elders who rely on their relatives for care may find it difficult to report abuse or neglect due to shame or an unwillingness to get their family member in trouble. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), family members are the most often reported perpetrators of elder abuse.
How to Prevent Neglect in Nursing Homes
CMS prohibits nursing homes from employing staff who have been found guilty of neglect by a court of law. If someone suspects a staff member of neglect, they should report their suspicions to the appropriate authorities immediately. These authorities include the State nurse aide registry or licensing authorities.
How to Report Elder Neglect
If you suspect an elderly person is in immediate physical danger, consider dialing 911. You can also find your local Adult Protective Services using the National Adult Protective Services Association website. You can find other helpful state agencies using the Elder Care Locator. The Elder Care Locator is one way to find the contact information for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman, the state-run program that advocates for nursing home residents.
What Happens When You Report Elder Neglect?
Calls to APS typically result in a home visit. After making an assessment, APS may persuade an elderly person to take advantage of care services available to them, including cleaning services. They may also help with Medicaid and other public assistance and identify a more suitable living arrangement. If APS suspects abuse or neglect, they can make a referral to the police or District Attorney.
Why Does Elder Neglect Matter?
The U.S. population ages 65 and up is expected to reach 20% of the population by the year 2040. As this population expands, elder neglect will become an increasingly pressing issue. Without appropriate safeguards, a pronounced social ill could evolve into a true crisis. Awareness, willingness to report, and nursing home abuse lawsuits are some of the best defenses against the epidemic of elder abuse.