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02 Jul 2018

Elder Abuse: What Are The Signs In Care Environments?

Elder Abuse: What Are The Signs In Care Environments?

When looking for long-term specialist care for an elderly friend or family member, the goal is simple: find the best care environment possible that will keep them safe and healthy. Care homes are able to offer this kind of specialist support in a home-from-home type environment, where there are trained healthcare workers available at all times.

While most care homes are incredible environments where the residents receive the best quality of care, there’s always an exception. Unfortunately, elder abuse does sometimes occur in care environments. A great way to ensure that you are selecting a good care home for your loved one is simple: go by the ratings given by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The CQC inspects care facilities, such as care homes and rates them on a four-point scale. These ratings are the following:

Outstanding: This service is performing exceptionally well. 
Good: This service is performing well and meeting the CQC’s expectations. 
Requires Improvement: This service is not performing as well as it should be, the CQC has advised the service what steps need to be taken to improve.
Inadequate: This service is performing badly, the CQC has taken action against the people or organisation that runs it.

Sadly, statistics have shown that elder abuse is a growing problem, particularly in care environments. However, while care homes are the most common places to see elder abuse occur, there are also instances where seniors will be abused by a loved one or a home carer, which is why it’s vital that both family members and carers alike know what the signs of elder abuse are and how to spot them.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is a very serious problem in care environments and something that the majority of healthcare professionals do their very best to prevent from happening. However, sadly elder abuse still occurs in many care home environments across the UK.

What is elder abuse exactly? Elder abuse is defined as a negligent or intentional act performed by a caregiver that results in harm of the elderly person. This could be a one-off act or a repeated act that causes harm or distress to an elderly person, or even simply a lack of appropriate action when caring for an elderly person, such as failing to turn them every few hours to prevent bedsores, for instance, is a form of elder abuse.

The good news is that the signs of elder abuse can be spotted fairly easily if you know what you are looking for, that is. What it’s important to understand is that there are different types of elder abuse, and not just one set type of abuse to look out for. These are the four main types of elder abuse:

  • Physical: Being rough, inflicting pain such as by hitting, slapping or giving inappropriate medication.
  • Psychological: Making threats or using something that a person in their care loves as a bartering tool.
  • Financial: Stealing from the person or defrauding them of their rightful property.
  • Neglect: Failing to provide proper care for a person in your care. This could mean not keeping them warm, feeding them properly, or withholding a medication that they require.

Why does elder abuse occur?

Often, there is a range of factors that lead to elder abuse occurring in care environments. These factors include the following:

  • Problems with staffing levels - too few staff being on the rota.
  • Lack of training and education.
  • Lack of supervision and support for team members.
  • No preventative procedures or policies in place to prevent abuse.
  • Poor communication.

What are the signs of elder abuse?

What it’s important to remember when it comes to elder abuse is that as each abuse type is different, the indicators associated with each type are also very different. Below, we have grouped the signs of abuse into the types of abuse, to make identifying these signs easier.

Financial abuse and exploitation: The signs that this type of abuse may be occurring include missing cheques, money going missing, payments not being made on time, missing credit or debit cards, failing to pay for things. (Usually, the perpetrators of this kind of abuse are family members, family friends or close personal carers.)

Neglect: Neglect is a form of abuse that can be committed by all types of carers, with the abuse ranging from small things like not washing clothing and bedding as regularly as possible and much larger issues like not providing adequate medical care. The signs of neglect include unsanitary living, a lack of personal hygiene, bedsores, malnutrition, dehydration, and medical conditions that are unexplained or untreated.

Physical abuse: Usually, physical abuse will result in some kind of visible injury or impairment. These can range from small cuts and scrapes to broken bones and head injuries. If a resident has a history of repeated injuries with no explanation of what is causing them, this is a clear sign that abuse may be occurring. Regardless of how minor these injuries are, they should always be taken seriously.

Psychological abuse: Often, psychological abuse is one of the most difficult forms of abuse to detect. However, it could be having a serious impact on a person. This type of abuse may cause an elderly person in your care to be afraid of a certain person or to become disconnected from the work.
If you suspect an elder person is being abused what should you do?

As a carer or healthcare worker, if you spot the signs of abuse and suspect that something is wrong, it’s your duty to report it. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t 100% sure, if you have even the slightest concern that a person in your care environment is being harmed in any way, it’s your job to report it.

You should report it to the person with the highest authority within your care environment, such as a manager, for instance. However, if you are concerned that one of your superiors may be inflicting the abuse, it’s best to report it to an outside authority, such as the Care Quality Commission.

As a healthcare professional or as a caregiver, you have a responsibility (both legally and morally) to report any potential signs of abuse that you see. That’s why being aware of what could constitute abuse is so crucial.

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