People often inquire about how many seniors are victims of elder abuse each year. Unfortunately, we have to answer that we do not really have an exact count. We certainly have our suspicions and our worst-case scenarios, but the nature of the act and the victims are such that elder abuse is a misdeed that can never be truly quantified. However, this does not take away from your rights and your remedies if it happens to your loved ones.
Almost every paper or article that you see discussing nursing home abuse will speak in speculative terms. You may hear the phrases “it is thought” or “the numbers may be” quite often used in connection with elder abuse. The truth is that experts never really know. All we do know is that the problem is pervasive and getting worse.
Some Frightening Statistics About Elder Abuse
Here are some statistics about elder abuse:
- Researchers believe that about five million elders suffer abuse each year
- Roughly one in ten older Americans over the age of 60 has been the victim of some kind of abuse.
- 36 percent of nursing home staff say that they have witnessed an act of physical abuse towards a resident, while 10 percent of nursing home staff admit that they have committed abuse themselves.
However, the National Research Council says that there are vast numbers of unreported abuse cases. Some estimates say that only one in every 14 cases of abuse gets reported to authorities. This is consistent with some studies. One study from the Department of Health and Human Services said that 33 percent of nursing home residents experienced at least one adverse temporary harm event. While many of these resulted from neglect, that is still a form of nursing home abuse.
CNN Gives a Window into Nursing Home Abuse Statistics
There are reports of nursing home abuse, but these numbers also do not capture the true scope of the problem. CNN has reported that people filed 9,700 nursing home abuse complaints with authorities in a single year. Many of these complaints involved physical abuse.
When it comes to sexual abuse, CNN reported that there have been over 16,000 complaints filed against nursing homes between 2000 and 2017. While this number seems to be low at just around 1,000 complaints per year, the number of sexual assaults reported is just a small fraction of what actually occurs. Many residents are unwilling or unable to report the abuse, and the predators get away with their conduct.
The number of seniors who still live on their own who are the victims of sexual assault is much higher. There, the perpetrators may feel like they will never get caught since the senior is isolated and lives alone.
Financial Exploitation Is Seriously Underreported
Financial abuse is also a type of exploitation that is dramatically underreported.
The National Adult Protective Services Association says that only one in every 44 cases of financial abuse gets reported.
Here are some reasons why elder financial abuse goes unreported:
- Many people will never even realize that they are the victim of financial abuse. They either do not check their accounts or cannot realize that someone stole their identity.
- Some people are embarrassed when they realize that someone else tricked them, and they would rather not call attention to their vulnerability.
- A proportion of seniors may not realize that they can complain about financial abuse.
Neglect Is the Most Underreported Type of Nursing Home Abuse There Is
The most underreported form of nursing home abuse is neglect. Less than two percent of neglect cases get reported each year. Many people do not realize that neglect is a form of abuse, but it is actually the most common form of mistreatment. When seniors are not getting the proper care, their health can deteriorate quickly, and they can die from injuries sustained in falls or from infections. Neglect is still one of the more common forms of reported abuse, but the number of reports pales in comparison to the estimated measure of actual cases.
One of the reasons why it is so hard to know how many seniors suffer abuse each year is because the category of abuse is so broad. Many people simply do not know that they experienced abuse because they do not know that what happened to them was wrong. The same goes for their family, who may not know what to look for in spotting potential abuse.
Kinds of Elder Abuse
Here are examples of the different types of elder abuse:
Physical and sexual abuse are undisputed forms of exploitation. Pretty much anyone who knows that these have happened knows that abuse has taken place. The hope is that they will make a report of it to the relevant authorities. This will result in an investigation and, hopefully, a report of the abuse to researchers.
Many People are Unaware that Certain Behaviors Are Reportable Abuse
However, many other people do not know that some of these forms of conduct might be considered abuse. For example, emotional abuse is an often misunderstood type of mistreatment. Many people do not even know that this could be considered abuse. They may simply chalk this up to a gruff or difficult staff member or even someone simply having a bad day. The result is that this form of abuse goes unreported.
The number of abuse cases also is undercounted because many seniors do not realize they suffered abuse. Perhaps the abuser has a high degree of control over the senior and can manipulate them. Many times, people end up sympathizing with their abuser and do not realize that the treatment they are receiving is illegal. Alternatively, they might simply make excuses for the person.
The Victim Can’t Always Report Abuse
In some instances, the victim either cannot make a report or does not want to do so. Dementia is a growing problem among seniors. Some estimates say that one in three seniors will have some form of dementia when they die. In any event, this decreases the senior’s ability to cogently explain and report the abuse. They can’t articulate the full extent of the behavior that they are experiencing.
In other instances, they may not want to make a report because they feel like they would be disappointing their abuser. They feel some sense of loyalty because the person may be a caregiver, and they could identify with their abuser.
Finally, the victim could be just plain embarrassed by what happened. If the abuse is sexual, they may have a deep sense of shame, even though they did nothing wrong. In the case of financial abuse, the victim could feel gullible and ashamed that they let someone take advantage of them. For these reasons, abuse cases are often undercounted.
Isolated Seniors Often Do Not Report Abuse
Elder abuse is also underreported because of the isolation that many seniors experience. When the abuse occurs outside the nursing home setting, seniors may simply not know who to tell. They may not have much human contact. Oftentimes, their abusers are one of the few people with whom they speak, and that is exactly why the abuser has power. People do not check up on these seniors often enough, and the abuse will go undetected.
The isolation may also distort the senior’s perception of what they are living through. With few people to discuss their circumstances with, they might simply accept their treatment without saying anything because they do not know the extent of the wrongdoing.
In addition, experts do not base the estimates of abused seniors on an exact statistical count. The numbers that we often see reported are researchers’ estimates based on their look at raw data. However, there is no one national database of elder abuse. All there is are guesses. This is because there are so many types of abuse and different places to report incidences.
We Might Never Conclusively Know the Exact Numbers of Abused Elders
This is why we will never really know the answer to the question of how many elders suffer abuse. The only thing that we really know about elder abuse and numbers is that the problem is much worse than any numbers indicate, and that the issue is getting worse. The growing number of seniors and their relative isolation make them a vulnerable population.
Loved ones or victims should report elder abuse to state agencies. There is not necessarily one central reporting place in each state for abuse. Nursing home abuse reports might need to go to a certain place, while exploitation of a senior living alone may be reported elsewhere or not at all.
Not every state even compiles statistics about nursing home or elder abuse. Of course, they act on the complaints that they receive and investigate, but they may not have a database that tracks all the reports. On top of that, there is no national reporting database where each state reports its information.
If Your Loved One Suffered Abuse, Act Quickly
Families who suspect that their loved one is the victim of any kind of abuse need to take quick action. The problem is that many families do not know where to turn. Not all seniors can report their abuse. Even though there are supposed to be large prominent signs in all nursing homes, residents may not comprehend their rights. While families may complain to nursing home administrators about poor care, they do not realize that, at some point, poor care violates the law.
The nursing home can face serious penalties for any type of abuse. If the problem is serious enough, the facility might no longer qualify for the Medicaid program, which is a death knell for a nursing home. For example, the Christian Care Home in Ferguson, Missouri, was the site of numerous horrors, including the repeated rape of a resident by another resident. After numerous infractions, Medicaid suspended the nursing home from reimbursements for new patients. Eventually, there were not enough residents to cover the costs, and the nursing home had to close its doors.
You May Recover Financial Compensation for Nursing Home Abuse
If your loved one was the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, you and your family may be eligible to recover financial compensation. Nursing homes should have to pay for the injuries that they caused your family member. While it is not a prerequisite to receiving compensation, reporting nursing home abuse or neglect will help your case. When investigators come to a nursing home and establish that staff did something wrong to your loved one, it can further your legal case.
In a nursing home abuse or neglect case, you do not even need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the mistreatment occurred. The standard of proof that you must meet is proving your claim by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that it is more likely than not that the abuse or neglect occurred.
If You Suspect Abuse, Contact a Nursing Home Abuse Attorney
A nursing home attorney can help you make your case for financial compensation. If you suspect that your loved one suffered injuries from abuse, one of the first calls that you should make is to a nursing home abuse attorney with the experience to assist families. The lawyer could give you advice on where and how to report your claim. They will also tell you how to document your claim for when you file a lawsuit.
After you report the abuse and hopefully take your loved one out of immediate danger, an attorney can help you strategize for your legal case. You can also seek out the lawyer’s advice when the abuse or neglect is responsible for your loved one’s death. Then, the attorney will help you file a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home.