Elder abuse can happen at home with caregivers who are family members or hired professionals, or in institutions such as nursing homes, convalescent homes, or other long-term care facilities. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, a study that interviewed 2,000 nursing home residents found that 44% reported they had been abused and 95% reported they had been neglected or witnessed the neglect of another resident.
Elder abuse is defined as an intentional action by a caregiver or other person whom the elderly person reasonably trusts that causes harm or creates a risk of harm. This can include a failure to satisfy basic or hygienic needs, intentional overmedication, or a failure to protect the elder from falls and other harms.
In order for abuse to qualify as elder abuse, the victim must be older than a certain age. This age varies among states and usually ranges from 60 to 70, but the older the resident, the more likely it is he or she will experience abuse. Female elderly residents are abused more often than male elderly patients. Disabled residents are more likely to experience elder abuse, as are people with dementia. One study found that 47% of participants who have dementia were mistreated by caregivers.
Many elderly people do not report nursing home elder abuse to their families or authorities because they are embarrassed, afraid of retaliation, or lack the cognitive ability to report. However, elder abuse can have terrible consequences. Those who experience elder abuse have a 300% higher risk of death compared to those who have not. Statistically, they have more psychological distress and physical ailments than elderly people who have not been abused. Direct medical costs associated with violence towards the elderly add more than $5.3 billion to the nation’s annual health expenses.
Elder Abuse Laws
There are both state and federal laws outlawing elder abuse. State laws are the primary source of civil remedies and protections related to elder abuse, but federal law does regulate those nursing homes that receive Medicare and Medicaid funds and provides regulatory mechanisms for state programs to support services for elder abuse victims.
Statutory schemes vary from state to state. However, all states have an adult protective services or elder protective services statute and statutes that establish long-term care ombudsman programs. These set up systems for reporting elder abuse and delivering services to elder abuse victims. About 15 states have separate statutes that provide civil remedies for abuse or neglect of nursing home residents. Some states provide increased criminal penalties when elderly adults have been abused in specified ways.
All states permit lawsuits based in tort principles for elder abuse. An elderly person or his or her guardian can bring a nursing home neglect or elder abuse lawsuit against a nursing home to seek compensatory damages, such as medical bills, emotional anguish, and pain and suffering. If elder abuse rather than neglect has occurred, there may be reckless or intentional conduct by nursing home staff, and punitive damages may be warranted. The amount of punitive damages awarded may partially depend on the nursing home’s financial condition.