What Is Elder Abuse?

October 25, 2019 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
What Is Elder Abuse?

Understanding How Elders Suffer Abuse

Trusting an elderly loved one to the care of someone else is never easy. Caregivers for the elderly can lose your trust when your loved one begins to exhibit signs of possible abuse. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines elder abuse as an intentional act or a failure to act that causes the risk of harm to an older adult. Understanding more about the types of elder abuse and how to spot it with your loved one is imperative for their health and safety. If you suspect your elderly loved one suffers abuse from a caregiver, consult an elder abuse attorney to discuss your options.

5 of the Most Common Types of Elder Abuse

Caregivers who abuse an elderly adult—defined by the CDC as anyone age 60 years old and older—is to treat them with cruelty or violence, regularly and often repeatedly. Anyone trusted alone with an elderly loved one can cause them harm, including adult children, relatives, or caregivers in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Social isolation and medical conditions like dementia or Alzheimers make the elderly vulnerable to abuse. Common types of abuse experienced by the elderly consist of one or more of the following: Physical - This type of abuse involves violent acts like hitting or pushing that results in bodily harm, functional impairment, or possibly death. The physical abuse may occur with or without a weapon. Physical injuries may compound any existing medical issues and result in unnecessary pain and suffering for the victim. Emotional Abuse - Yelling, threatening, or saying hurtful words to an elderly person is emotional abuse. Sometimes referred to as psychological abuse, it can also involve nonverbal abuse. Examples of nonverbal abuse include ignoring their needs and isolating them from loved ones. Sexual - It is hard to imagine yet sexual abuse is another common type of elder abuse. When a caregiver forces your loved one to watch—or participate in—sexual acts, the mistreatment can result in severe emotional damage. Neglect - Failure to protect an elderly person from harm or failing to meet their essential needs of care is neglect. A trusted caregiver responsible for their basic daily living needs and shelter must ensure the following needs are met:
  • Medical care
  • Nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Clean clothing and bedding
  • Hygiene, bathing, and personal care
  • Safe living environment
Fixing a meal or taking a bath are often difficult or impossible tasks for the elderly to do alone. When these basic needs go unmet, your loved one's health and spirit can easily decline. Financial abuse - For seniors with limited income, losing their life savings due to a deceptive caregiver is heartbreaking. Financial abuse occurs when a caregiver conducts illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an older individual's resources. This type of abuse can occur in many forms, including:
  • Improper use of guardianship or Power of Attorney
  • Denying an older person access to their accounts
  • Coercion or deception to convince the older person to surrender finances or property
According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 Americans age 60 and older have experienced some form of elder abuse. Equally alarming is that one study estimates that only 1 of every 14 cases are reported to law enforcement. These frightening statistics are why it is important to know the signs of possible abuse of your elderly loved one.

Signs of Possible Elder Abuse

What is Elder AbuseStaying alert to any changes in your loved one's appearance or demeanor is essential for spotting potential abuse. If you live far away from your loved one, ask a trusted friend or relative to check on them for you. Share with them your concerns, and if possible, travel to see them for yourself. You know your loved one best and more so than a caregiver you barely know. If something feels off when you call, trust your gut and go assess the situation without delay. Signs of possible elder abuse include, but are not limited to:
  • Bruises, burns, abrasions, cuts or other signs of physical trauma
  • Poor hygiene including unwashed clothing or hair
  • Bedsores
  • Weight loss
  • Depression and withdrawal from activities they normally enjoy
  • Drastic changes in their finances that result in a loss of funds
  • Overhearing or witnessing a caregiver yelling at your loved one
  • Expressed fear by your loved one at the sight of their caregiver
When it comes to elder abuse, documenting your suspicions and gathering proof is important if you decide to pursue litigation. Take photos that capture the condition of your loved one and their environment. Speak with the nursing staff and administration about your concerns. Document the date, time, and the names of those you speak with along with key elements of your conversation. With more serious cases, you may not have time to do an investigation. If your loved one is in desperate need of assistance, call 911 immediately. Once your loved one is safe and secure in either a hospital or a different facility, discuss your case with an elder abuse attorney. An attorney is your best bet for holding the nursing home accountable for your loved one's pain, suffering, and unexpected expenses.

Reporting Elder Abuse

Not only do those who care for the elderly have a moral responsibility to report suspected abuse—but they also have a legal responsibility to report it. Medical professionals like nurses are mandated reporters. A nurse or doctor who fails to report elder abuse may face possible criminal charges and civil action. A recent report by the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Inspector General found that nursing home abuse is grossly underreported. Despite federal requirements, nursing homes repeatedly failed to report incidents of abuse to either law enforcement or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The report discovered that one in five emergency room visits from a nursing home is the result of abuse.

Nursing Home Facilities

Florida nursing homes and skilled-nursing care facilities are not inexpensive. The average cost is more than $8,000 per month for a semi-private room and $9,000 for a private room. Nursing homes provide 24-hour care and for many adult children, and are the only choice for their elderly loved ones. When a loved one enters a nursing home, you may feel guilt and sadness but also a sense of relief. You trust the staff to provide the best care possible for your loved one, however, many nursing homes are short-staffed. Research shows that nursing homes with lower staff levels tend to have more health code violations. Employees may want the weekends off, however, that leaves fewer people to assist patients with their daily tasks.

Risk Factors for Elder Abuse

Not enough staff, or poorly trained staff, can lead to abuse and neglect resulting in falls, missed medications, and other harm. Documenting and reporting suspected abuse is everyone's responsibility. Don't rely on caregivers to do the reporting. Fear of retaliation from the administration or a downright lack of care on their part may leave the abuse unreported. If you suspect your loved one is the victim of elder abuse, take immediate steps to help them. Remove them from the situation, seek treatment for their injuries, and find a new facility for them to call home. While not all nursing homes are bad, those who mistreat their patients must be held responsible. Inform law enforcement so that they may investigate criminal charges. Next, present your evidence to an elder abuse attorney familiar with Florida law.

How an Elder Abuse Attorney Can Help

Relocating an elderly loved one can result in expenses that you didn't anticipate. Depending upon the urgency of the situation, you may encounter such circumstances as the only room available is the most expensive room. If you are truly desperate for a new living environment for your loved one, you may have to take whatever you can find on short notice. Nursing homes face liability when they allow certain abusive or negligent behavior to occur, including:
  • Employing potentially dangerous or unqualified staff
  • Failure to monitor staff, to properly train them, or to discipline them
  • Not providing necessary medications, food, and other important needs
  • Allowing hazardous conditions to exist, resulting in falls and other bodily harm
Florida law allows the filing of a civil claim against a Florida nursing home and the following parties:
  • A nursing home's licensee
  • The management company
  • The employees
  • Any direct caregivers
The resident, if able, may file the claim or have a guardian do so on their behalf. An elder abuse attorney will need to prove the following about any defendant(s):
  • The resident was owed a duty of reasonable care by the defendants.
  • The defendant(s) breached the duty of care.
  • The breach of duty is a legal cause of loss, injury, death, or damage to the resident.
  • The resident experienced loss, injury, death, or damage as a result of the breach.
Knowing your loved one experienced any form of abuse is upsetting and stressful. Holding the nursing home and caregivers responsible for their actions is best left to a legal professional. Once you secure the services of a Florida elder abuse attorney, you can better concentrate on your loved one and their emotional and physical needs. The nation's elderly population faces increasing challenges as the need for skilled care rises. As the population ages, the lack of qualified care providers is concerning. However, issues such as low staffing and high-turnover of staff are not the patient's problem. No one has the right to abuse or neglect an elderly resident. By filing a civil claim, you not only seek justice for your loved one—you may just prevent the same abuse from happening to someone else. Most elder abuse attorneys offer free case evaluations and there is no charge less they collect compensation for you. You have nothing to lose in meeting with an attorney to discuss your case. Take any documentation pertaining to your loved one's situation to your initial consultation.

Always Speak With An Attorney First

A representative from an insurance company representing the nursing home may want to settle out-of-court. Nursing homes can't afford bad publicity or negative attention. In an attempt to settle the case quickly, they may offer you a settlement that seems like a large sum. It is important to not speak with them but rather your attorney. You may never know the true extent of the psychological trauma that occurred. The elderly are vulnerable and dependent on others yet still deserve a good quality of life. Nursing homes and other facilities can provide nutrition, social interaction, and other benefits the elderly need to stay happy and healthy. When the trust of a caregiver is broken, there's an immediate need to rectify the situation. Sometimes conditions don't improve, despite repeated reports to administration. If nothing is done about your reported concerns, don't wait for conditions to improve. You'll have better peace-of-mind if you remove your loved one, report the abuse to law enforcement, and secure an elder abuse attorney.

Protecting the Rights of the Elderly

Your elderly loved one is no doubt special to you and your family. While you may not be able to care for their daily needs, you do need to trust those who care for them. As their advocate, you must stay alert to physical and emotional changes that signal possible abuse. As the research shows, too many cases of elderly abuse go unreported by the very people mandated to report it. A Florida elder abuse attorney can help you decide upon the best option for pursuing justice. Personal injury attorneys with experience in elder abuse cases provide the compassion and persistence you need for your case. With strong lines of communication, you will always know how your case is progressing. The right caregivers can provide excellent care for the elderly population. When the wrong caregivers neglect or abuse those in their care, nursing home facilities are liable for the harm that results. Stand up for the rights of your elderly loved one by discussing their case with a Florida elder abuse attorney at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA (Main Office) 800 N Belcher Rd Clearwater, FL 33765 Phone: (727) 451-6900 https://www.dolmanlaw.com/nursing-home-abuse-lawyer/florida/


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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