We’ve all heard horror stories about abuse and neglect in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The statistics are depressing, and the personal stories are heartbreaking. But these are not the only locations where an aging loved one is at risk.
Elder abuse can happen in your own home at the hands of a home health aid or other paid care assistant. More often, it occurs in homes where the patient lives alone and has tried to remain independent. In either case, the first step in addressing elder abuse/neglect is to recognize the signs and symptoms.
Signs of physical abuse or neglect
Because older adults may already suffer from some health issues, it is sometimes difficult to tell which injuries are accidental and which were inflicted by an abuser. Some signs to watch for include:
- Bruises cuts or scars – particularly on the wrists, arms and face – that cannot be easily explained
- Sudden weight loss without an underlying cause
- A sudden change in behavior or disposition – especially becoming withdrawn or fearful
- Bedsores that are either very progressed or never seem to go away
- Dirty and unkempt living conditions
- Dirty and unkempt clothing and appearance
- Notices for unpaid bills and other financial issues despite having enough money to cover these expenses
You should also keep an eye out for suspicious behavior displayed by the home health aide. This could include always trying to answer questions for the patient or not wanting to leave you alone with the patient.
Also, have you ever stopped in and found that the aide was not there when he or she was supposed to be? Are your loved one’s necessary medicines and personal care devices being kept up to date and in working order?
Financial abuse is also a problem
It can be difficult to track financial abuse if you don’t readily have access to your loved one’s financial information or power of attorney. But some potential signs of financial abuse include:
- Cash or valuable items that suddenly go missing from the house
- Large checks written out to cash or to individuals you don’t know.
- Mysterious charges on credit or debit cards
- Social Security checks that go missing before making it into your loved one’s bank account
If your loved one is particularly vulnerable (perhaps suffering early stages of dementia or especially poor health), please discuss a way in which you could monitor their money, even if you cannot access funds directly.
How you can respond to suspected abuse
If you hired the home health aide through an agency that seems to be reputable and is well-reviewed by other clients, you will likely start by contact that agency and reporting your suspicions. But you don’t need to stop there. You can also contact police to discuss your concerns or to report possible crimes (like theft and abuse).
If the aide was hired independently, you’ll likely need to report your concerns to the police. You can also do a quick internet search for the phone numbers of state health agencies and national hotlines to report and discuss elder abuse.
Finally, you may wish to consult with an experienced and caring personal injury attorney as well. Even if criminal charges are in order, it may be necessary to pursue litigation in order to recover stolen assets or for purposes of appropriate compensation for physical harm.