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Elder abuse in aged-care facilities: The tell-tale signs


It’s estimated there are around 3.7 million Australians aged 65 and over; this equates to over 15% of the population. Government officials estimate this number will grow to 23% by 2055.

With an ever-aging population there has been a greater need for aged care home facilities. It’s estimated that around 200,000 Australians currently live or stay in a residential care home. Sadly, the number of cases of neglect and abuse are on the rise in these sorts of settings.

The below provides a guide to understanding what constitutes elder abuse, how to spot the signs in your elderly relatives and how to raise concerns and complaints.

Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety

In September 2018 a Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was announced to investigate how older people are cared for and improvements that need to happen surrounding abuse and mistreatment in homes; with the final hearing and findings yet to be finalised.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is any act or failure to act that causes harm to an older person by a caregiver or someone in a position of trust. It can take the form of physical, psychological, medical and sexual abuse, as well as financial exploitation, abandonment and neglect.

Sadly, older people do not speak up about abuse and neglect, especially in the residential care home settings for fear of ongoing mistreatment or being seen as a problem resident. As a family member or loved one there are important warning signs to look out for and steps you can take.

Types of elder abuse in aged-care facilities

Physical abuse

In environments where family and friends are not around 24/7, loved ones may be subjected to physical abuse or rough handling.

Signs that physical abuse may be occurring include:

  • Cuts, sprains, broken bones, bruises or hair loss; and
  • Overuse of a medication to sedate or restrain the person.

Psychological and emotional abuse

Elder abuse is not always physical, and psychological abuse can have just as devastating an impact on a person’s quality of life. This type of abuse can include (but isn't limited to): name calling, intimidation and threatening elderly residents and verbal and nonverbal acts.

Loved ones should be wary of the following signs:

  • Sudden increase in anxiety, depression, sadness or anger; and
  • Fearfulness of certain people or situations.

Sexual abuse

Sadly in a care home setting it is easy to find vulnerable older people to target; the abuse can be from either carers or other residents.

Signs that sexual abuse may be occurring include:

  • Unexplained and reoccurring STDs and infections;
  • Bruises on the body not associated with a fall etc.;
  • Clothing that is torn, stained or covered in blood;
  • Depression or withdrawal or very sudden change in overall mood; or
  • Anxiety or excessive fear around specific people.

Medical abuse

Medical abuse is most commonly experienced in nursing homes and hospitals and covers situations where an elderly resident or patient is inadequately cared for. Instances of medical abuse could include; incorrect medications and or amounts being administered and failure to take complaints of medical issues serioulsy.

Withholding personal care and attention

Care homes are notorious for an unbalance of staffing numbers to resident ratios and at times the hours of care awarded to each resident is minimal.

Indicators of medical or personal care and attention abuse to look out for include:

  • Inadequate clothing or heating / cooling
  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Skin diseases, infections or bruises
  • Insufficient hygiene practices leading to unnecessary conditions (mouth infections from poor oral hygiene for example)
  • Pressure sores, bedsores or blisters from lack of movement, and
  • Dramatic, unexplained weight loss.

How can loved ones report elder abuse in an aged-care facility?

If you or your loved ones are concerned with the level of care afforded to your elderly relatives in care facilities it is important to speak up and help to protect them. Abuse of any nature should not be tolerated.

There are a few avenues to making a complaint, these include:

Reporting elder abuse can be done through 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374) – a national service that will direct you to your state or territory phone line service.

Put a stop to elder abuse – right a wrong for your loved ones

Mistreatment of the most vulnerable members of society is never acceptable. If you suspect that a family member or friend is being mistreated and abused in a care home facility, it’s important to report this abuse to the police and seek legal advice to remedy the abuse. Our team of abuse law experts can listen to your story and guide you on the next best steps for your situation. Get in touch today.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: May 11, 2020.

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