Imagine this, Aunt Susie has been in a care facility for a while and you stop by to visit with her and realize she has a black eye or suspicious looking bruises around her wrist. The very kind residence staff assure you “she fell off the bed again” or “she ran into the door frame”. Silly Aunt Susie, guess we have to watch her even more closely right? Elderly people do this all the time, nothing strange here, right?
Well, maybe. Then again, there was that time last week she “leaned over too fast and bumped her head,” and not that long ago weren’t you told she fell out of the bed? So why hasn’t it been fixed? How are they allowing Aunt Susie to get hurt so much if it is really an accident?
How Can You Know?
Here is the thing you need to remember, as adults get older they are more prone to injury, aren’t as coordinated, they move slower, miss things like that extra stair, they cannot think as clearly and are simply not the person they used to be capable of doing everything they used to do. Also, they are often unable to take care of themselves or stand up for themselves when mistreated. Sometimes when dementia or other similar ailments are part of the situation being able to tell if it’s “normal” or if something is going horribly wrong can be even more difficult to decipher.
Signs of Abuse:
The good news is there are very clear signs of abuse that you can keep your eye out for.
- Does Aunt Susie have more and more unexplained or hard to explain injuries like bruises, welts or scars? Do they appear symmetrically or on the sides of the body?
- Does the caregiver seem more controlling, not letting you be alone with Aunt Susie, coaching Aunt Susie on what to say or answering your questions for her?
- Does Aunt Susie seem more distressed than usual, nervous or fearful?
- Does the caregiver threaten, belittle or joke about how “dumb” Aunt Susie is, even if it seems in jest?
- Does Aunt Susie seem to be withdrawing from things she used to love and becoming distant?
- Are there sudden changes in alertness or severe mood swings?
- Does Aunt Susie seem more distressed and mimic more symptoms similar to dementia such as rocking, sucking her thumb or talking to herself?
- Is Aunt Susie dirty? Is her hair uncombed, is she wearing the same clothes or looking overall disheveled?
- Is she dressed properly for the weather?
- Is there an excessive amount of dirt, bugs, soiled bedding or clothes?
- Does Aunt Susie have bed sores or rashes that show signs she has messed or wet herself and not been taken care of?
Everyone Deserves To Feel Loved And Respected
All of these may sound scary, extreme and heartbreaking, but if you see any of these, especially if you see multiple of these things happening to an elderly loved one, it is time to dig a little deeper and see what is going on.
This does not mean you have to live your life in fear, or panic any time Aunt Susie gets a bruise. The elderly really will get hurt more and can have accidents, heck that goes for anyone, not just the elderly! But it’s important that you are aware of the situation. Visit often. Observe her companion or caregiver. If she is in residence with multiple patients also be aware of how the others are treated. Talk to her, ask her how she likes her caregiver, most often she will talk and share her feelings. And if Aunt Susie is not able to properly communicate with you then do not be afraid to hire an outside agency for a few hours a day to be a companion for Aunt Susie. This way you will get a neutral perspective and also the person there can observe how the staff works with and treats the residents. This will be a good indicator of how your family member is being treated when no one else is around. And regardless of what the facility says...you have the right to hire whoever you want to sit and spend time with your family member. Actually, if they are encouraging you not to do this and making it difficult for you, then that may be a very good indicator that something is going on. Not only does this give you the assurances you need but it will let Aunt Susie know you care, you are listening and if something ever does come up she will be more likely to talk to you.
In general, you should see respect, compassion, and patience. Caregivers should go out of their way to give their charges dignity and love. Everyone has days that patience is gone and frustration reigns, but love should always dominate because everyone deserves to feel loved and respected.
Have questions, concerns or ideas you would like to share? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!