Neglect of the Elderly

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Elder neglect is the failure to provide adequate care and protection to an elderly person. Neglect is a growing concern and is currently one of the most common elder abuse claims. If your loved one is not receiving the type of care they should receive and the caregiver's actions have risen to the level of negligence, it may be time to contact a personal injury lawyer.

Neglect and Standard Level of Care

How do you know if your elderly loved one is neglected or is not receiving the care they are entitled to receive from a doctor, nurse, or medical facility? The first step is to understand the standard level of care which should be provided.

Not only should elderly patients receive adequate food, clothing, and shelter, they should also receive a standard level of physical, cognitive, and social interaction through physical activity and socialization. Nurses should encourage patients to ambulate, provide flexible visitation schedules, and institute strategies to prevent functional decline, including exercise, good nutrition, and pain management.

The design of elderly care facilities should encourage patients to get out of bed. They should also construct environments which include safety features such as handrails, wide doorways, raised toilet seats, shower seats, enhanced lighting, low beds, and chairs of various types and height.

Signs of Neglect

Signs of serious neglect should be easily detected and can include:

  • Dehydration
  • Poor personal hygiene which can include inadequate washing and unkempt dress
  • Malnutrition
  • Untreated bed sores
  • Unexplained broken bones, bruises, bleeding, or fractures.

Other indications that the standard level of care may be inadequate may be more difficult to detect but can include:

  • The facility has unsafe living conditions (no running water or heat, fleas, feces, soiled linens, or dirt)
  • The facility does not provide adequate access to medical care or prescription medications
  • The facility does not properly treat medical conditions
  • The patient is unattended for long periods of time or has their physical movements unduly restricted
  • The patient is isolated from their friends, family, or other social or physical activities

Reporting signs of Neglect

Any signs of elderly neglect or abuse should be reported immediately. Each state has an Adult Protective Services (APS) agency which investigates all reports of elderly abuse. Emergency reports may be investigated within 24 hours and crisis intervention may be available. Reports can be made confidentially.

When making a report you will need the name of the elderly person, their address, their contact information and detailed information about your concern, including the type of abuse or neglect you suspect, and the person's current medical condition.

APS will take action to assess the safety of the elderly person, determine their wishes, and rule out the possibility that abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation has occurred. Next, they will ensure that the elderly person has options to eliminate their vulnerabilities.

If the neglect rises to an illegal abuse, such as physical or sexual assault, law enforcement may also be notified and conduct their own investigation of the complaint. If the neglected elderly patient resides in a nursing home or long-term care facility additional investigations may be done by the state's long-term care ombudsman, which is responsible for investigating nursing home complaints.

Other people who should also be notified might including the elderly patient's doctor, friends, or other relatives.

Neglect and Personal Injury Claims

Neglect can be serious or minor. It also can cause long-term physical or emotional injuries or simply minor injuries. Proving a neglect case for elderly care can be difficult. Not only will you have to prove the caregiver had a duty towards your loved one, you will also have to prove their conduct did not meet the standard level of care, and the breach of their duty caused injury or loss.

Although willful and flagrant abuse in a living facility is generally well-publicized, most neglect and abuse occurs outside of a living facility and is generally perpetuated in the elderly person's own home or in a relative's home.

All types of abuse should be reported and stopped, but if you believe neglect has occurred at the hands of a health care professional, talk to a personal injury lawyer, especially if this abuse has caused serious injury or harm to your loved one.