Transitioning to long-term care can be emotionally tough for patients and families alike. We all want to make sure our loved one is being properly cared for and treated with dignity. We also know that in some cases, seniors may have a hard time making the shift to residential care. Initial complaints and grumbling are often par for the course as our loved one gets used to the new setting. If a senior speaks out about treatment in long-term care, we want to differentiate between a challenging adjustment and potential abuse. Here are some guidelines for making sure your loved one is getting the care they deserve and for taking action if you suspect elder abuse.
What Is Elder Abuse?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, elder abuse is an intentional act or failure to act by a caregiver or another person in a relationship with an expectation of trust that causes a risk of harm to an older adult. Elder abuse covers physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 5 million (roughly ten percent) of elderly adults experience abuse, neglect or exploitation each year. While a large majority of abuse cases happen in a senior’s or caregiver’s home, around 10 percent of abuse cases occur in long-term care facilities according to the Virginia Department of Social Services.
Is My Loved One Being Abused or Having a Tough Transition?
While charges of abuse must be taken seriously, it’s important to remember that loved ones may have a skewed perception about what is going on in a long term setting, especially as they begin their transition from independent living. This can include blowing minor concerns out of proportion in an attempt to return home. Here are some great tips from the AARP on how to handle complaints from loved ones with respect while understanding all the factors in play.
- Look into minor problems before going to the facility’s administration. Issues like roommate problems, food problems and missing or lost items usually have simple solutions that don’t require filing a formal complaint.
- Develop a relationship with nursing aides caring for your loved one. This will help you get to know the facility and what’s going on in your loved one’s world.
- Get involved with the long term care facility. Visit frequently and volunteer when possible. Plan your visits at different times to get a picture of life there throughout the day. This will help you get an accurate sense of realities in the facility.
- Make time to attend important meetings with facility administrators and play an active role in developing and following your loved one’s care plan.
What Are The Signs of Elder Abuse?
While some complaints may simply be a sign of a difficult transition, genuine suspicion of abuse should always be reported and taken seriously. According to the Virginia Department of Social Services, 55 percent of abuse reports to the state were substantiated in 2017. Here are some of the signs to look out for, according to DSS:
Physical Abuse or Neglect
- Multiple severe bruises or welts
- Broken bones or fractures
- Black eyes
- Untreated injuries or medical conditions
- Restraint or isolation
- Fear of a caregiver
- Malnourishment or dehydration
- Personal hygiene issues
- Genital or urinary irritation
- Sexually transmitted disease
- Nightmares or sleep disorders
- Fear or mistrust of others
What Should I Do If I Suspect Abuse in Long Term Care
If you’ve done your homework and suspect abuse, the first step is to discuss your concern with a supervisor or social worker at the facility. If the issue is not addressed, families should contact their state long term care ombudsman. The state ombudsman is an advocate for seniors and families with a focus on resolving problems and mediating concerns between seniors and families and care providers. The ombudsman is connected with the state health department and social service agencies and can help tackle abuse complaints. For more information on this program in Virginia, go to elderrightsva.org.
Patient Dignity and Abuse Prevention at Evergreen Health & Rehab
The long-term care program at Evergreen Health & Rehab focuses on quality of care and respect for all residents. We have implemented best practices to prevent elder abuse within our facility. These include robust staffing ratios, regular employee training on abuse prevention, close administrative supervision and a positive work environment with a focus on the value of every individual in our care. We also understand that working closely with families is key to protecting patients. We encourage caregivers to visit, get involved and take an active role in their loved ones’ care plans. No appointments are required for routine visits, and our administrators are always available to discuss concerns. We know that the road may start a little bumpy as everyone adjusts, but working closely with families, we strive to provide a sense of security and dignity for all of our patients.