By Brian S. Kabateck
Elder abuse is a rising national crisis, often cited as a “hidden epidemic,” and is defined as the intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult aged 60 or older. According to the National Institute on Aging, older people may endure different types of abuse, including physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
Some factors that make older adults more vulnerable to abuse are social isolation and those dealing with mental impairments, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. Older people who are victims of elder abuse may feel robbed of their dignity and security, and some may even fear for their safety.
The Department of Justice reports that at least 10% of adults aged 65 and older will experience some form of elder abuse as they age, with some older adults experiencing more than one type of abuse. While COVID-19 posed many challenges for the average person, it had a profound impact on elders, including an increase in abuse. It exposed the need for improvements in staffing and oversight regarding elder care.
An article by The Psychiatric Times found that although the COVID-19 pandemic affected nearly everyone in the country, it was especially detrimental to older adults. Research revealed that the number of elder abuse reports increased drastically at the beginning of the pandemic, with reports ranging from neglect and family violence to financial abuse. A study published in the National Library of Medicine, which explored the abuse during the pandemic, found that older adults also suffered more from the measures taken to contain the spread of the virus, such as statewide lockdowns, compared to any other age group.
Unfortunately, these policy changes, which were important in safeguarding the public from COVID, had negative consequences for older groups, who reported feeling isolated and abandoned during the first wave. Because people were also limiting physical contact due to stay-at-home orders, it made it difficult for family members to identify the signs of elder abuse amongst their older relatives, including those in care facilities.
Reports indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly deadly for elders in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. According to a study that examined COVID-19 deaths linked to nursing home facilities, residents suffered the most due to the rapid spread of the virus, extreme understaffing, and neglect. While nursing homes and other elderly care facilities have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their residents, in some cases, caregivers fail to follow proper standards of care, leaving vulnerable residents isolated and exposed to the dangers of the virus. The World Health Organization claims that the effects of the abuse can be severe and cause health problems such as anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide, along with other physical consequences which directly impact an elder’s quality of life.
A report by the Wall Street Journal revealed that it expects the number of incidences of elder abuse to increase even after the pandemic has ended due in part to the aging population and the lack of qualified and licensed caretakers. Many are choosing to leave the industry due to low pay and exhaustion, while seniors have a more challenging time reestablishing connections lost at the start of the pandemic.
One way to help prevent elder abuse is by communicating with them and listening to their needs and challenges. If you or someone you know is living in a nursing home, it’s essential to keep in touch with them and their caregiver to ensure they get proper care and attention. Always check in on older adults who may feel isolated. Lastly, it’s important to know the warning signs of elder abuse, such as unexplained bruises, weight loss, feelings of anxiety and depression, unexplained transactions, or loss of money. If you suspect abuse of any form, it’s critical to report it as soon as possible.
The attorneys at Kabateck LLP have represented victims of elder abuse who pursue civil action against a perpetrator and, in some cases, other parties. Contact one of our experienced personal injury attorneys at our firm to learn more about recovering damages and explore your options.