Understanding Elder Abuse

The term “abuse,” in and of itself, has a quite expansive meaning. It can vary based upon personal beliefs, whether ethical, moral, or religious. It can vary by circumstance or setting, in that what may be appropriate in one situation, may not be in another. It can vary depending on age or status (i.e. children, elderly, disabled persons). It can vary based upon relationship with the abused (i.e. family member, caregiver, medical professional, person in authoritative position). It can vary in the legal context, in terms of fault, liability or consequences, when viewed from a criminal, civil, regulatory, and contractual perspective. It can involve a specific act, but also a failure to act. It can be intentional or unintentional.

Because abuse can be so broadly interpreted, determining what constitutes abuse in a given scenario can be difficult for many. This applies not only to the actual victim, but also to the individuals most directly involved in their lives, such as family and friends. Sadly, it is often the most vulnerable persons that are more likely to be subjected to abuse—children, the elderly, and the severely disabled. For nursing home residents, the risk of being abused can be two-fold, because not only are they elderly, but the need for long-term care in a facility often arises due to disability. Elder abuse refers to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act (or failure to act) that causes harm or risk of harm to an elderly person or other vulnerable adult. It can involve physical, mental, emotional, psychological, sexual harm; neglect or abandonment; financial exploitation; other forms of mistreatment; or a combination thereof.

Awareness of the vulnerabilities that many elderly persons face in general, is the first step to identifying nursing home abuse. Even more important though, is understanding whether there are risks factors that might make a particular resident more vulnerable in comparison to another. For example, consider nursing home residents that suffer from Alzheimer’s, some other form of dementia, or have limited brain function or mental capacity due to disease, condition, injury, or genetic disorder—OR—those with severe mobility impairments due to injury, medical condition, or age. Keep in mind, the more physical and/or mental limitations a resident has, the more susceptible they can be to abuse or neglect.

Imagine if you were a nursing home resident that was bed-ridden, unable to speak, or lacked the mental ability to identify and/or properly communicate concerns. Certainly it would be ideal to have complete security in knowing that you can fully trust and rely on the persons that you or your loved one is dependent upon. Unfortunately, when it comes to long-term care, few can realistically place this level of confidence in the facility and its staff. Think of nursing homes as an interconnected network—the facility relies on its administrators, the administrators on its supervisors/managers, the supervisors on its caregivers/ other staff members, and the residents on all of the above. Quite simply, there are just too many ways in which mistake, error, misconduct, carelessness, recklessness, and negligence can lead to the exploitation or harm of a resident. Being aware of this too, is critical.

Knowing the warning signs to look for is also key to identifying abuse, but can also play a role in preventing abuse before it even occurs. Just as abuse comes in many forms, so do the indicators associated with it. If something doesn’t seem right, speak up—in doing so you might be helping other residents that reside at the facility as well.

If you have a concern over the care or well-being of a resident living in a long-term care facility, the Chicago Nursing Home Abuse & Negligence Lawyers of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. want to help you understand your rights and options, as well as legal remedies that may be available to you. Contact us online, or give us a call at 773-515-4100, for a FREE and CONFIDENTIAL personal injury consultation.

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