Understanding Physical Elder Abuse

Understanding physical elder abuse

When an elderly person is under someone else’s care – be it a family member, nursing home staff, or a licensed caregiver – they have an expectation of trust in that relationship. Of all the forms of elder abuse that sadly exist today, inflicting intentional physical harm is perhaps the most vicious way to violate that trust. Sadly, this type of abuse is still a common problem across homes and long-term care facilities throughout the country. Understanding the warning signs and risk factors of these heinous acts will help ensure that your loved ones stay safe.

It’s a well known fact that physical and domestic abuse as a whole is already a sorely overlooked and underreported issue in our society, but if you dig deeper you’ll find an even more invisible tier of violence: physical abuse on the elderly. The truth is, only 1 in 20 cases of elder physical abuse is reported to the authorities, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, making it one of the most marginalized types of assault against an already marginalized group of people in our country.

What Is Physical Elder Abuse?

While elder abuse comes in many forms, physical abuse may be the most direct, severe, and life-threatening. Physical elder abuse is defined by the CDC as any “illness, pain, injury, functional impairment, distress, or death as a result of the intentional use of physical force” against an older adult.

It can occur either at home or in a licensed institution, and may be perpetrated by a family member, spouse, friend, caregiver, nursing home staff member, or another resident in a long-term care facility. The physical act may occur as a single, isolated incident or can be ongoing and habitual. However, for aging adults who are already physically frail and whose weakened immune systems make it harder for them to recover from injuries, it only takes one forceful act to cause permanent damage, health problems, or even death.

Physical Elder Abuse Statistics

  • Between 2002 and 2016, over 600,000 senior citizens were treated in emergency rooms due to non-fatal physical assaults and over 19,000 suffered fatal injuries.
  • According to a 2017 study by the World Health Organization (WHO), 9.3% of nursing home staff members admitted that they physically abused elderly residents while at work.
  • In almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect cases, the perpetrator is a family member. According to The Office of Women’s Health, physical elder abuse is much more likely to come from a spouse or a romantic partner.
  • Seniors who have suffered some form of elder abuse have a 300% higher chance of death than those who have not been abused.

Types of Physical Elder Abuse

Any type of physical force against an elder that may result in bodily injury, physical pain, impairment, or death can be construed as physical abuse. In its most brute forms, this can include the use of physical violence such as:

  • Hitting
  • Pushing
  • Shaking
  • Slapping
  • Punching/kicking
  • Scratching
  • Restraining
  • Strangling

It also includes threats of violence and being unnecessarily rough with an elder, such as during bathing or dressing. Restricting the movement of an elder either physically or through the inappropriate use of medications also constitutes physical abuse.

Some of the most common signs of physical abuse can include:

  • Broken bones
  • Unexplained cuts, burns, bruises, or bleeding
  • Tooth loss
  • Dislocated joints
  • Signs of self-treated injuries
  • Sudden or unexplained hair loss

Not all signs are necessarily physical, either. It’s important to keep a close eye on emotional trauma indicators that may hint at a hostile environment where physical abuse or threats of physical violence are commonplace. These signs can manifest themselves through:

  • Sudden changes in mood
  • Acting withdrawn or frightened
  • Rocking back and forth, sucking or mumbling to themselves
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Acting depressed, confused, or losing interest in social activities
  • Tense, strained, or nervous relationship with a caregiver

Risk Factors

While the physical frailty and weakened defenses that come with aging are risk factors in and of themselves, there are some elders who are more at risk of being physically harmed than others.

Seniors who suffer from mental disabilities such as dementia or Alzheimer’s are particularly at risk. With impairments in memory, communication skills, and judgement, they may not remember that the abuse even took place, or they may be unable, scared, or embarrassed to report it.

Moreover, as people become older, their familial and social support systems can become smaller. Seniors who live in nursing homes far away from their friends and relatives may be more susceptible to physical abuse because warning signs may go unnoticed by their loved ones.

Conversely, family dynamics can also play a role in creating a hostile environment for the victim. If the abuse is perpetrated by a family member, such as a spouse, child, or grandchild, the elder may feel emotionally conflicted about reporting it. Not only that, but they may fear that the family member will get in trouble or that they won’t be believed because the assailant is a relative.

Why Does Physical Elder Abuse Occur?

Sadly, the myriad of outside circumstances that can contribute to the physical mistreatment of elders has little or nothing to do with the elders themselves. They are generally innocent victims caught up in personal problems associated with a caregiver or issues stemming from mismanagement in a care facility.

Researchers have proposed a range of factors that may motivate an abuser to attack an elderly victim, including but not limited to:

  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Excessive stress or fatigue due to understaffing in a nursing home
  • Psychological issues such as bipolar disorder or depression
  • Being abused as a child or having a history of domestic violence within the family
  • Having a criminal history
  • Anxiousness or stress related to limited financial resources

Preventing Elder Physical Abuse

No matter the reason or circumstances surrounding it, the bottom line is that causing an elder intentional physical harm is never excusable. If your loved one is under somebody else’s care, you are the first line of defense against abuse. It’s important to visit your family members frequently and ensure that the facility they’re living in adheres to certain standards of care.

If you notice any warning signs or suspect that someone you love has been physically abused, here are some resources on how to report elder abuse, or you can contact Berberian Ain today for a free consultation with one of our Glendale physical elder abuse attorneys. We can gather the evidence needed to prove instances of abuse, explore your available legal options, and help you seek the compensation you and your loved ones deserve.