Elder-Abuse-dreamstime_m_28140354-300x200Elder abuse has been called an epidemic and is viewed by many as a national crisis, for good reason. As many as five million elders in the United States are abused, neglected, or exploited each year and 90% of these cases are perpetrated by family members or trusted advisors. The National Center of Elder Abuse has said that only one of every 14 cases of elder abuse is reported, while others put the number as high as one out of every 23 cases. Criminal elder abuse describes the willful infliction of physical or emotional suffering on an elder. Civil elder abuse includes any physical or financial abuse, neglect or abandonment resulting in physical or mental harm.

If you’re like me, those statistics are simply staggering, and we cannot continue to ignore this problem. But, how can we work to stop elder abuse? Well, there are actually a number of ways you can help in the fight to end elder abuse. Here are three ways you can help today:

1. Let your legislators know that you are an advocate for nursing home reform legislation. This would involve sitting down and simply stating your position to your elected official in writing. It is their job to represent the voice of his/her constituents. You can find your legislators here. Let them know that you find the statistics alarming, and that you support measures to help reform the nursing home industry to prevent additional abuse to elders.

Elder abuse in any form is strictly prohibited by California law. In addition to physical abuse and neglect, medication errors in nursing homes are considered a form of elder abuse. Unfortunately, due to insufficient staffing in many long-term nursing facilities, errors in the type and amount of medications administered to residents occur with alarming frequency. While in many cases there may be no detrimental side effects to an elder who is given the incorrect medication, or the wrong dosage; in many other cases, the error can prove fatal.

For example, if two patients’ medications are mixed up, and incorrectly administered, the outcome can be disastrous. A diabetic who is mistakenly given a fellow patients’ heart medication may not under normal circumstances have a negative reaction. However, if that heart medication happens interacts with other medications he or she is taking, or causes side effects that the patient can’t sustain; the mistake can result in death.

Other medications must be taken consistently in order for them to be effective. Therefore, missing a dose of the proper medication can have devastating consequences on the elder who has missed their dosage. Other medication errors that may occur in nursing homes include:

For many families the decision to help a loved one move into a long-term care facility is difficult. With elder abuse cases on the rise, it is understandable if you have concerns about a particular nursing home that you’re considering for yourself or your loved one.

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Although the decision may be necessary, you’ll obviously want to ensure that you’ve selected the most reputable facility available. To help you in the process of searching for the perfect long-term care facility for your loved ones, here is a list of helpful questions to ask of the facility’s administrators and staff.

*What is the staff to resident ratio?

mandated-reporting-300x213-300x213While Mandated Reporters are required to report elder abuse within 48 hours and know who to report the abuse to, many non-mandated reporters suspect Elder Abuse, but don’t know where to turn. The general rule of thumb is to always err on the side of caution when suspecting elder abuse. Unfortunately, if unreported, elder abuse often escalates, and all too often the results are tragic. If you suspect an elder you know is being abused, report it immediately. You may be saving the health, assets, or even the life of an elder who may be too afraid to report the abuse themselves.

There are numerous ways to report suspected elder abuse, and it is probably much easier than you think. Furthermore you will be protected from criminal or civil liability, so do not let the fear of retribution prevent you from ever reporting abuse.

If you suspect an elder is being abused in any capacity, while in a long-term care facility such as a nursing home; report the incident to both the Local Long-Term Care Ombudsman and the California Department of Public Health. You should also consider reporting to Adult Protective Services Agency.

In its simplest form, financial elder abuse involves taking money or property from an elderly person with the intent to defraud them. It is a growing problem in California given the state’s increasing senior population. The signs of financial elder abuse can be difficult to see. Though the presence of any of the following signs associated with financial elder abuse is not absolute evidence of abuse, it should prompt further investigation:

• Elder is withdrawn.

• Elder is confused and tends to be more forgetful than usual.

Under California law, elder abuse is both a criminal and civil offense. Criminal elder abuse describes the willful infliction of physical or emotional suffering on an elder. Civil elder abuse includes any physical or financial abuse, neglect or abandonment resulting in physical or mental harm. Diminished capacity due to the elder’s advanced age, physical confinement, and medical condition make it difficult for victims to speak out about their abuse. Even when they do, perpetrators may blame the complaints on the elder’s senility, confusion, or dementia. Many victims have no family or friends left to care for them. They rely entirely upon the staff and caregivers at their nursing home or facility. That is why it is important for anyone who witnesses elder abuse to recognize the symptoms and report the abuse.

elder-abuse-photo-300x297Signs of physical abuse include unexplained weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration. While lack of appetite is a common complaint amongst the elderly, caretakers are required by law to provide the food and service necessary to the patient’s health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, poor nutrition often leads to easy bruising, another sign of physical abuse. Look for bruises and skin damage in the shape of fingerprints or clustered marks from repeated striking or beating. Also notice any new scratches, cuts, welts, or fractures. Marks indicating pinching, choking, or gagging evidence acute instances of abuse, while increased bedsores show neglect, as when the patient is not turned over enough in bed.

While not as visible, suspicious behavior may also indicate abuse. Watch for undue agitation, anger, or defensiveness. These may be signs of mental suffering. Patients may also become non-responsive, hesitant, and anxious when asked to explain their abuse. They may feel increasingly isolated as they lose contact with family and friends. Always look for signs of fear, withdrawal, depression, and helplessness in determining whether there has been abuse. Remember that any social isolation, absence of assistance, or indifference toward the needs of the elderly may constitute abuse. Even if you are not related to the victim, report any suspicious activity to the proper authorities.

bigstock-Middle-aged-man-holding-cardbo-12848081-300x200The decision to place a loved one in a long-term care facility for the elderly can be a very difficult and emotionally demanding process. Both you and your loved one need to take an active role in the decision to maximize the health, safety and well-being of your loved one. Once you have narrowed down your search and thoroughly researched and toured the facility, you should consider the following set of guidelines put together by California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform to ensure your loved one receives the best possible care and treatment.

1. Support your loved one’s transition to the care facility. Open communication is extremely important while your loved one transitions to their new home. There may be feelings of loss or abandonment by the person being placed in the facility, as well as mirrored feelings of guilt or neglect by the person assuming responsibility for the placement. Therefore, it is important to openly discuss these feelings. Make sure your loved one receives a comprehensive assessment upon admission and be attentive to any changes in needs, behaviors, attitudes, and affections during the transition.

2. Make your visits count. Vary your visiting schedule by going on different days and at different times. This will ensure you are able to meet various members of the staff, and observe how your loved one interacts with other residents and staff members at different times of the day. Also, make a plan before each visit. Try to discover new things, meet new residents and staff members, explore new areas of the facility, plan special events outside of the facility, and bring with you important talking points and your loved one’s special interests.

If your loved one is suffering from dementia, you should be sure that any nursing home you may be considering is equipped to care for dementia patients, thus allowing for a more beneficial experience for the patient, not to mention a safer one.

Dementia is caused by damaged brain cells, which leads to a deterioration in cognitive abilities, including memory, speech, and dementia-in-women-300x169understanding. Numerous diseases lead to dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 70% of all dementia cases. Other diseases leading to dementia include Parkinson’s disease and vascular disease.

In choosing a home for a dementia patient, you should first carefully evaluate the skills and background of the staff. Understaffing and poorly-trained staff are severe problems in California nursing homes due in part to the rise in the sheer number of patients, but also to health facilities cutting corners to improve profit margins. Staff should be trained specifically in dealing with the symptoms of dementia so that they are aware of the special needs involved. You should inquire about the kind of training staff members receive, whether the training is ongoing, and whether staff is trained in handling the sometimes difficult behavioral characteristics of dementia patients. Finally, excessive administering of psychotropic drugs to patients is a problem that has become rampant in California and across the nation. You should also inquire about the facility’s practices in this regard, and ensure that it follows California and federal law prohibiting off-label use of medications.

The use of physical and chemical restraints in California nursing homes is sometimes a necessary way of protecting patients from injuring themselves and others. When used excessively and, more importantly, without consent, the practice becomes outright abusive. Often this method is used not simply to protect the patient, but rather to make a staff member’s job easier. Overuse of restraints is exacerbated by the growing number of understaffed nursing facilities.

Physical restraints are used to keep patients from wandering around the facility, a potential hazard for the patient and others. A nursing home is required by law to have the resident’s consent before using a physical restraint. Symptoms of physical restraints include sores or bruising on the arms and legs, usually on the ankles and wrists.

Chemical restraints involve the administering of powerful psychotropic drugs to sedate and confine the patient by taking away his or her cognitive abilities. These drugs are not permitted under any circumstances unless the nursing care facility outlines a legitimate medical reason for their use and further provides the frequency and dosage. Because most people are not familiar with the side effects of psychotropic drugs, it can be more difficult to identify chemical restraints than physical restraints.

The elderly are prime targets for financial scams. Persons over the age of 50 control over 70% of the nation’s wealth. Yet senior citizens are more likely to have disabilities or impairments that make them vulnerable to manipulation and prevent them from taking action against their abusers. Some older people are unsophisticated about financial matters or unaware of how much their assets have appreciated. Others cannot help but follow a predictable pattern of receiving and cashing in their monthly checks, making it easy for predators to guess when they have money or need to go to the bank. Many times, the very family members and helpers they depend upon are the perpetrators who unduly influence and exploit them.

senior-wallet-1-300x200Financial abuse refers to the theft or embezzlement of an elder’s money or property. It includes a wide range of conduct, from the immediate theft of money and property to the use of deception, coercion, or undue influence over time. Perpetrators may also reap financial gain by forging the elder’s signature, forcing them to sign a deed, will, or power of attorney, placing charges on their credit cards without permission, or using any fraud, scam, or deceptive act to financially exploit the victim. Sadly, the perpetrator does not have to be in proximity with the victim; AARP estimates that Americans lose $40 billion each year to fraudulent sales pitches that promise a lottery win, prize win, travel package, or “amazing home loan.” Over 56% of the victims targeted are aged 50 or older. Some widespread forms of financial elder abuse include:

• Identity theft