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Elder Abuse by Family Members vs. Nursing Home Staff Members

Elder abuse is extremely dangerous, whether it is committed by nursing home staff members or family members. Elder abuse can physically, emotionally, or financially harm older adults, and can even lead to death. See how you can take action against both elder abuse by family members and nursing home abuse.

Differences Between Elder Abuse and Nursing Home Abuse

Some people may assume that elder abuse only happens in the context of a nursing home. This is not true. Elder abuse can happen in any setting or context, but it is more likely to occur when older adults rely on others for assistance in their daily lives. That could be at a nursing home, or a private residence where an older adult lives with their family.

Elder abuse committed by family members and nursing home abuse are each slightly different from one another and may require different approaches in order to find a solution.

Elder Abuse Nursing Home Abuse
A broad term to describe when an older American is abused or neglected A type of elder abuse that specifically occurs when someone is harmed in an assisted living facility
Anyone may be a culprit, but family members are the most common perpetratorsPerpetrators are staff members, nurses, and even other nursing home residents
Other family members/loved ones can check in regularly to make sure the elder is safe Families can use online resources and regular visits to reduce the risks of abuse

A good rule of thumb to follow in either case, though, is: call 911 if you or someone you love might be in a life-threatening emergency.

Nursing Home Abuse Explained

Nursing home abuse is any form of harm that comes to a resident living in a long-term care facility.

Examples of nursing home abuse include:

  • Physical injuries
  • Severe neglect
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial exploitation

Nursing home abuse can be caused by many problems, ranging from understaffing to burnout among the employees. There are many different types of employees who may commit nursing home abuse, including general caregivers and on-staff registered nurses.

Preventing Nursing Home Abuse

There are ways for family members to check the quality of nursing homes — both before a loved one moves in and during their stay.

  1. Medicare.gov’s care compare tool allows people to see ratings for nursing homes near them. A red warning icon will appear if the nursing home in question has been cited for problems possibly related to abuse.
  2. When choosing a nursing home, make sure to speak with other families and ask about their experiences as well. You want to make sure that the nursing home you choose treats residents safely and with respect.
  3. Family members can check in with a nursing home resident regularly to assess their overall health, and look for any patterns that could be linked to a lack of care (such as recurring bruises or soiled clothes).
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask your loved one about their nursing home experience. Being proactive and asking questions can prevent abuse and even save a life.

If you believe your loved one has suffered from nursing home abuse or neglect, you can contact a long-term care ombudsman or a branch of the state’s Adult Protective Services (APS).

Understanding Elder Abuse by Family Members

Elder abuse often occurs when another adult family member lives full-time at home with the older person. In this type of scenario, the abusive family member has the needed access to cause physical, emotional, or financial harm.

“In almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member. Two-thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.”

— National Council on Aging (NCOA)

Relatives of the victim may commit elder abuse for a variety of reasons. There could be mental illness or strong emotions like resentment involved. In cases of financial abuse, relatives may be overcome by greed or a sense of entitlement.

Because of this, the signs of elder abuse by family members can vary. However, strange and negative changes in a loved one’s mood, physical appearance, or finances may indicate that abuse has taken place.

Taking Action Against Elder Abuse by Family Members

If abuse/neglect is being committed by a family member or trusted love one, victims may not know how to properly take action.

“When in a difficult family situation, it can be hard to recognize the signs of abuse or neglect. In general, if you’re feeling as if you have a secret “too big” to talk about, feeling guarded or scared when someone asks about your well-being, or feeling like you’re hiding something — you need to ask yourself why you desperately don’t want others to know or see something going on in your life.”

— NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

A good first step is to ensure you or an elderly loved one is removed from the dangerous situation where they could be experiencing abuse. Once an older adult is out of danger, steps need to be taken to prevent the abuser from causing more harm.

Abused elders or other family members may also feel conflicted about reporting loved ones — even when it is a necessary step. Family members can assure the victim that reporting the loved one who is committing the abuse is the right thing to do. Another family member can also report the abuser on the victim’s behalf.

When To Take Action Against Elder Abuse

If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse or neglect from a loved one or a nursing home staff member, take action immediately to prevent the problem from worsening. It can be hard to file a report against a family member or trusted caregiver — but it is vital to do so.

The U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services encourages you to report nursing home abuse to one of several agencies.

These agencies include:

  • State Survey Agencies (which monitor nursing homes in the state)
  • Long-term care ombudsmen
  • 911 in the event of an emergency

You can also get a free case review to learn more about reporting elder abuse or neglect to legal counsel. Make sure that you take action — you could save a life.

Author:Nursing Home Abuse Justice Team
Nursing Home Abuse Justice Team

Nursing Home Abuse Justice was founded to shine a light on nursing home and elder abuse. Every day, thousands of people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are abused. Our team helps educate seniors and their loved ones on the common causes, signs and preventions of nursing home abuse. We report on real-world studies and current events from respected news outlets to expose this national problem.

Last modified: February 18, 2021

View 4 References
  1. NCOA. (2020). Elder Abuse Statistics & Facts: Elder Justice. Retrieved February 14, 2021, from www.ncoa.org/public-policy-action/elder-justice/elder-abuse-facts/.

  2. Medicare.gov (n.d.). Preventing abuse in nursing homes. Retrieved February 14, 2021, from www.medicare.gov/care-compare/resources/nursing-home/preventing-abuse/.

  3. Rosenblatt, Carolyn. (2014). Would You Be Willing To Report A Family Member For Financial Elder Abuse? Retrieved February 14, 2021, from www.forbes.com/sites/carolynrosenblatt/2014/11/18/would-you-be-willing-to-report-a-family-member-for-financial-elder-abuse/?sh=30edd9786de9.

  4. NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. (2017). ELDER ABUSE: WHEN A FAMILY MEMBER CAUSES HARM. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from https://nyceac.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/When-a-Family-Member-Causes-Harm.pdf