Are you safe at home? It’s a simple question that family members, social workers, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists need to ask their older patients every time they visit.  Why? Because that simple question could open the door toward identifying elder abuse.

Senior Abuse Does Happen At Home

When we think of elder abuse, we think of nursing homes.  But it doesn’t always happen that way.  In fact, many of our older family members choose to stay home longer and have care in their own surroundings where they are comfortable.  This presents a dilemma because the home is not subject to the scrutiny of a facility such as a hospital or nursing home.  The same standard of oversight simply does not exist which makes it easier for a person to be taken advantage of, especially if others are not asking questions or visually checking for abuse.

Elder abuse is a serious, common and sometimes fatal problem that is absolutely preventable.  There is no reason our seniors should have to suffer at the hands of anyone, let alone caregivers who are paid to come into our homes and see to their every need because they can no longer do these things for themselves.  So, how should you start protecting your loved ones who have caregivers at home?

A Few Facts on Elder Abuse

First, some facts so that you know what you are up against.  This will help you prepare when you hire someone to care for your loved ones.  Let’s look at the bad news first and then we will discuss how to prepare and prevent.

Bad News

  1.  Most elder abuse is never discovered. An Institute of Medicine report noted one in 10 older Americans, “experience physical, psychological or sexual abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation.” But for every elder mistreatment case that is brought to the attention of authorities, more than a dozen go unreported.
  2. Home care abuse can be easier to disguise because there are less checks and balances.  There is no management oversight in many cases and unless the patient speaks up – most of them do not, this can go on for a very long time.
  3. Agencies that provide home care workers do not always provide background checks.
  4. This is a public health issue.  Too many people still view it as a private matter such as the way domestic violence was once treated.  This may be because we are not sure what to do or how to handle this.  Often elder abuse comes from family members so loved ones are reluctant to speak out.
  5. Patients with dementia or other memory problems may try to speak out and not be taken seriously.  Their claims may be seen as “confused” and when the health care workers are confronted, it becomes easy to write it off as “she often says crazy things”.

Now for some good news that will help you prepare and prevent.

Good News

  1.  If you have more than one caregiver coming into your home, make sure each person is checking your loved one EACH and EVERY time and reporting back to you.  It’s a simple checks and balances and do not feel guilty about this.  Remember, you or your loved one is paying for this service.  Whether you are writing a check or paying by insurance, he or she deserves excellent care and you deserve to know the status.  You can simply ask questions like: “Was Mom/Dad/etc ok today? Anything I need to be aware of?”
  2. When you visit your loved one, check yourself for bruises that are out of the norm.  Older people will bruise more easily but look for the beginnings of bedsores on those who are stationary  and do not be afraid to gently ask “are you being treated ok?”
  3. If you feel there is something going on, ask their physician for a screening on the next visit.  Share your concerns privately with the doctor.  If frequent trips to the ER have begun to pop up, ask the personnel to flag this and take a look.  This is where it can stop and action can be taken immediately.

An Ounce of Prevention

Always hire home health care givers from a reputable company.  If insurance is paying, they will have some recommendations and may even make the choice for you from a specific company.  Do not be afraid to ask the company if they do background checks.  Ask them if the person who is taking care of your family member has ever had any problems or complaints, especially ones such as abuse. If you know someone who has used a company before, ask them for a recommendation.  Most of all, if you begin to use someone and things do not feel “right” or you notice something is off with your loved one, dig into it to find out more.

Here is a real life story on how this can play out:  Annie needed a caregiver for her mother during the day while she works.   Annie contacts a company.  She inquires about the backgrounds of anyone they send and is told that the company “screens” all of their nurses and assures her there have been no issues or complaints.  After 2 weeks, Annie notices her mother is beginning to get fearful each morning when Annie begins to leave for work.  She stays home and observes the caregiver but notices nothing out of the ordinary other than her mother reacting oddly.  She dismisses the caregiver early that day and spends the day with her mother.  There are no noticeable marks or bruises on her body and her mother will not say anything is wrong.  Annie installs a camera into her home.  As it turns out, the caregiver is locking the mother into a room with no access to food or water while she watches TV most of the day.

How could Annie have learned about this without a camera? In time, her mother’s lack of food and water, as well as irregular medicines would have landed her in the hospital.  But a camera was the way to go for this situation.  In the end, Annie not only sought a case against the home health care company and found out that the worker had quite the history but the worker was also arrested on criminal charges.

Always remember, situations change day to day. An older person who was safe at the last visit may not be at future appointments. Vigilance is extremely important to keep your loved one safe.

Discuss Next Steps During A Consultation

If you or someone you love is suffering or has been suffering from these types of situations, contact us.  Attorney David Crawford has the experience and knows exactly where to start.  If the initial facts warrants further legal investigation, David and his team will gather information about the patient’s history so that he has a complete understanding of how, and when, this occurred.  He will work with you and others to develop a detailed time line to understand what happened to your loved one, any warning signs that were ignored by the home health care staff and what could have been done to avoid the problem. In essence, David will show you the negligent acts and omissions that may have occurred and help you understand the case prior to filing any lawsuit.

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