Elder and nursing home abuse: A universal problem
- Published: 13 March 2012
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13 March 2012
The elderly are vulnerable to abuse, even those without physical or psychological limitations. As we get older, we lose our means to defend ourselves. And ageism leads to people ignoring abuse complaints; people don’t always take what the elderly claim seriously.
In the US, the Department for Health and Human Services found that 91 percent of nursing homes fail to meet federal requirements for care. Seventeen percent of nursing homes between 2005 and 2007 were reported for exposing residents to abuse or neglect that did or could have resulted in serious injury. In 2004 alone, more than 500,000 cases of elder abuse were reported in the U.S.
One particular story that hit home with many Americans in 2011 involved Lois McAllister, a 78 year-old resident of the Quadrangle Senior Living Community in Haverford, Pennsylvania.
Sensing abuse, McCallister’s daughter and son-in-law placed a hidden camera in her bedroom. What they found was horrifying. A dementia patient, the video captured McCallister being hit, taunted, poked in the eyes, and having her ears pulled. According to the court affidavit, “During the majority of the 12-minute encounter recorded by the camera, McCallister stood naked from the waist up attempting to cover her breasts.”
In response to the horrifying video, Delaware County District Attorney Michael Green said to ABC news, “The video depicts criminal activity directed at a senior victim in our county. It's abusive. ... It's the humiliation which is most difficult to watch on the video. No senior resident of a facility should be subjected to that kind of behavior, particularly from a health care provider."
In the United Kingdom, a 2006 National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) study found that 342,400 elderly people “living in private households (including sheltered housing)” had experienced some form of abuse in the past year.
More than 60 percent of the elderly’s abusers were a family member and 13 percent reported their abuser as a care worker. Additionally, women were found to be more likely to suffer from abuse than men; 3.8 percent of women surveyed reported abuse while only 1.1 percent of men did.
One particular instance of elder abuse was covered heavily by the media in the U.K. in 2011. A reporter at BBC’s Panorama went undercover at Winterbourne View in Hambrook, a community for adults with mental and physical disabilities. Repeatedly verbally and physically abused by staff members, residents were subjected to taunting, slapping, and teasing; one resident was even forced to get into a shower while fully clothed, and then forced to stand outside in the cold.
Calls for investigations into the abuses were ignored by the Care Quality Commission's (CQC), which is when the BBC stepped in. In outrage, Stephen Dorrell, the Chair of the Commons Health Committee said to The Guardian, “I presume the majority of those cases [i.e. patients and their care costs] were paid for with public funds. The people [i.e. employees of the government] who signed the checks have a duty to make certain that standards are of an adequate nature.”
In Australia, 95 percent of the Australian elderly live at home and 5 percent live in a care facility, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Various studies have been conducted with the goal of understanding the percent of Australian elders who suffer from abuse.
According to the same source, anywhere between 3 and 5 percent of Australian elderly people have suffered from some form of abuse, and 8 percent of Australian adults know someone who has experienced elder abuse. And until 2007, reporting elder abuse was not required by law.
In 2007 a law was enacted that required care givers to report only severe cases of sexual and physical abuses; to this day, there are no lawful requirements for people to report instances of neglect, financial abuse, or emotional abuse, or even non-severe cases of sexual and physical abuses. So the percent above of reported abuses is probably not representative of the problem.
In 2010, the story of Gwendoline Gleeson, an 89 year-old patient at Ballabill House Nursing Home in Seymour, Australia, died of a coronary while physically restrained on a toilet. Gleeson, whose health had been deteriorating, had been restrained without medical authorization.
Even worse, when her son was told of her death, he was not told the full details; Her son told ABC News, “What I heard today from the Coroner’s Court was that Mum was strapped in the toilet and she was left there for two hours…. I had never heard of that before.”
Like the UK, US, and Australia, Canadians are also the victims of abuse. According to Statistics Canada, 7 percent of elderly Canadians have suffered from at least one form of abuse and 24 percent of all abused elders are abused by non-related family members.
Seven percent of elderly Canadians have suffered from at least one form of abuse. In Ontario in 2008, the Canadian Press reported that around 75 percent of nursing homes were reported for inflicting some form of abuse or neglect on their residents.
Several media reports on nursing home abuse in Canada surfaced last year, but one case is particularly disgusting. In Ontario, Danae Chambers, a 71 year-old woman with dementia, was discovered being raped anally by her male nurse.
This was despite staff members reporting the male nurse for mysteriously disappearing during his shifts months before he was caught. Chamber’s guardian, Anna Schrofer The Star, “I trusted them to take care of her. I tried so hard to find the right home for her and everyone said this was the best.”
The problem as a whole
Cases like those mentioned above are stomach churning and sadly, not uncommon. Something all of these countries have in common is not just that elder abuse is occurring, but that none of them have an established agency that works to truly comprehend elder abuse’s prevalence.
According to the US’s National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), only 1 out of every 14 cases of elder abuse is reported. This probably has much to do with the fact that the majority of the time, the elderly are abused by their family members.
With the way things are now in these countries, just how deep this rabbit hole goes is beyond our comprehension. These countries must act to help the abused elderly come out of the shadows to report their abusers and take steps to prevent abuses from happening as many of the elderly do not have the mental capacities to report the abuses they endure.
Until then, citizens must take action by spreading the word, creating or joining organizations that educate and act to end abuse, and encouraging politicians to take action.
Amber Paley is a freelance writer on the topic of on elder and nursing home abuse around the world. Amber spends much of her professional life analyzing nursing home abuse statistics. She blogs at Nursing Home Abuse and is a contributor to Motorcycle Accident and Medical Malpractice Lawyers.