Factors Contributing to Elder Abuse Prevalence
Elder abuse and neglect is almost unthinkable to most people. Unfortunately, it is a very real problem that affects millions of residents of nursing homes every year. An estimated 10% of all people over the age of 60 have become the victims of abuse. That figure may be too conservative, because it is also estimated that only 4% of all abuse cases ever come to light. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found in 2012 that a majority of nursing facilities, 85%, had at least one allegation of abuse or neglect on their records.
How can it be that elder abuse is more widespread than many people can imagine? There are a number of factors that may contribute.
Large Number of Elderly People
By the year 2030, the entire generation of baby boomers, i.e., those born during the two decades following World War II, will have reached retirement age. As they continue to age, a significant number of baby boomers will no longer be able to care for themselves. They will need long-term care such as that provided in nursing homes. The large numbers of people in need of care may put a strain on such facilities.
The aging of the baby boomer generation is a problem that should have been anticipated. However, as more people become residents of nursing homes, the current staffing is no longer adequate to serve the population of residents. Stressed, overworked, sleep deprived, required to work overtime, many nursing home workers are stretched to their limit, likely to snap with the slightest provocation.
Lack of Recognition/Reporting
Residents of nursing homes are often not mentally competent to report abuse against them. Those who do have the faculties to report may be afraid to do so for fear they will not be believed or the abuser will retaliate against them.
While most people can recognize the signs of physical abuse, such as unusual bruises and other injuries, recognizing the signs of emotional abuse, which leaves no physical mark or scar, can be more difficult. Often the signs are behavioral in nature and may be mistaken for symptoms of mental decline.
People might think that abuse would be more prevalent in small, privately owned facilities than in those run by large organizations with so many resources available. In fact, residents of small private long-term care facilities tend to be safer from abuse than large corporate ones. In a private facility, residents receive personalized care, while in a corporate one, the primary concern is making money.