Physical Elder Abuse

Physical elder abuse is the intentional use of physical force that results in injury, pain, or impairment. It can include beating, shaking, kicking, and burning. Nursing home physical abuse is especially sickening, since elderly residents usually can’t defend themselves or stop the abuse on their own. Filing a lawsuit to seek justice for nursing home physical abuse may provide financial and emotional relief to victims and their loved ones.

What Is Physical Elder Abuse?

Physical elder abuse occurs when an older individual suffers from pain, injury, distress, or even death at the hands of another person’s intentional use of force.

Nursing home physical abuse may include, but is not limited to:

  • Burning
  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Pushing
  • Slapping
  • Striking with objects
  • Unnecessary restraints (physical or chemical)

The physical effects of elder abuse can range from minor cuts and bruises to broken bones — and since elderly individuals tend to be frail to begin with, physical elder abuse can be especially dangerous. In some cases, physical elder abuse may even lead to death.

In fact, a 13-year study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that physical elder abuse victims are two times more likely to die prematurely than those who did not experience abuse.

Physical elder abuse is also known to result in lasting psychological damage, such as suicidal thoughts, depression, and anxiety.

Thankfully, if you or a loved one suffered from physical elder abuse while living in a nursing home, financial aid may be available to cover your medical expenses.

You deserve justice. Get a free legal case review now.

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What Causes Physical Elder Abuse?

While there has not been a great deal of research done on the specific causes of elder abuse, there is general agreement that three factors come into play.

Factors that are the likely causes of physical elder abuse are:

  1. Staff burnout, due to staffing shortages/mandatory overtime
  2. Stressful working situations, especially due to being short-staffed
  3. Resident aggression and poor staff training on how to handle it

Despite a lack of research into the causes of nursing home physical abuse, it is a widely known occurrence that must be stopped.

“A male nurse grabbed me, slung me on the floor, and threw me into the bed. He was in a bad mood because we were short-staffed, and he had to work two floors.”

– Georgia Nursing Home Resident (Atlanta Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program)

Types of Physical Elder Abuse

The types of physical elder abuse usually involve causing bodily harm or restraining a nursing home resident unnecessarily and against their will. This can include physical restraints, chemical restraints, locking residents in their room, or tying them to furniture.

Nursing home physical abuse may also include sexual abuse, although measures are being taken to categorize this type of abuse separately. It is only by properly categorizing the forms of abuse that their root causes can be understood and stopped.

Signs of Physical Elder Abuse

The signs of physical elder abuse are generally easier to spot than with other types of elder abuse, such as sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect.

Warning signs that a resident is being physically abused include:

  • Abrasions
  • Broken bones
  • Broken eyeglasses
  • Burns
  • Pressure marks
  • Unexplained bruises

Some non-physical signs of elder abuse include the resident displaying symptoms of trauma, such as self-neglect or rocking back and forth. Abuse victims may also become withdrawn and stop participating in activities they once enjoyed.

Who Is Most Likely to Abuse the Elderly?

People who abuse the elderly can play many different roles. They can be caregivers, family members, judge-appointed guardians, and even strangers.

In many cases, abusers have psychiatric diagnoses, substance abuse problems, and criminal histories. They can be men or women, although studies show perpetrators are mostly males aged 18-80.

Risk Factors for Physical Elder Abuse

Abusers tend to prey on nursing home residents who are frail and do not have the ability to stop or report the abuse.

Another risk factor is social isolation, as many abuse victims are unmarried and have no living children. Without such people around to be their advocates, isolated residents can become easy targets for nursing home physical abuse.

Common Risk Factors for Physical Abuse

There have been various studies designed to examine the specific characteristics of nursing home residents in an attempt to determine what puts some at higher risk over others for abuse.

Some common risk factors for physical abuse include:

  • Being elderly
  • Being nonwhite
  • Having Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia
  • Having limitations in physical functioning

Additionally, behavioral problems — such as displaying physical aggressiveness toward staff — present a significant problem.

Since many staff members view this aggression as an attempt to be difficult or cause them harm, they become much more likely to handle the residents roughly.

Treating Physical Elder Abuse

Since physical elder abuse often leads to nursing home injuries, residents will likely need medical care. Nursing home physical abuse can lead to head injuries, broken bones, and constant physical pain. All of these injuries are dangerous and require a doctor or health care provider to treat.

Physical abuse is also likely to lead to emotional suffering for elderly nursing home residents. Conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), clinical depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances may arise. These can be treated with counseling, medication, or both.

While treating physical elder abuse can bring unexpected financial strain, you may qualify for financial aid.

See if you can pursue financial compensation.

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Reporting Physical Elder Abuse

If someone is in life-threatening or immediate danger, call 911.

For non-urgent cases of physical abuse, you can call:

  • Adult Protective Services: 1-202-370-6292
  • Eldercare Locator: 1-800-677-1116
  • National Center on Elder Abuse: 1-855-500-3537

You may also wish to contact your local long-term care (LTC) ombudsman. Read more about nursing Home Ombudsman Programs below.

Who Investigates Elder Abuse

The Administration on Aging (AoA) provides grants to each state’s Adult Protective Services (APS) agency. APS programs exist to find, investigate, and resolve elder abuse.

APS caseworkers are mostly concerned with the elderly victim’s safety and often call upon law enforcement to assist as needed. Physical elder abuse cases with substantiated criminal activity are typically handed over to prosecutors.

Additionally, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) monitor the health and welfare of nursing home residents living in facilities that participate in Medicare or Medicaid.

Nursing Home Ombudsman

Nursing home ombudsmen are advocates for nursing home and assisted living facility residents. They are able to confidentially assist people with complaints of physical elder abuse.

Under the Older Americans Act (OAA), each state is required to have an ombudsman program to handle complaints and advocate for the well-being and proper care of nursing home residents.

Responsibilities of an ombudsman include:

  • Advocating for residents’ rights and quality care
  • Promoting community involvement through volunteer opportunities
  • Promoting citizen organizations, family councils, and resident councils
  • Providing info on nursing homes, residents’ rights, and policy issues
  • Resolving complaints for nursing home residents

The national network of ombudsmen has about 6,000 volunteers who are certified to handle complaints and about 1,500 paid staff members. In 2019, the Ombudsman Program investigated almost 200,000 complaints and helped find long-term care facilities for 425,084 people.

Statistics About Physical Elder Abuse

According to the Justice Department, 10% of elderly individuals are abused each year. Tragically, only one in every 23 cases gets reported. Because of this unfortunate reality, accurate statistics about physical elder abuse are a challenge to obtain.

“From 2002 to 2016, more than 643,000 older adults were treated in the emergency department for nonfatal assaults, and over 19,000 homicides occurred.”

– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Notable statistics on physical elder abuse include:

  • In almost 60% of cases, the abuser is a family member.
  • Those with mental impairments and with no relatives are often targeted.
  • Two-thirds of perpetrators are spouses or adult children.
  • Women and abuse go hand in hand — they are most likely to be abused.

Sadly, the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) reports that elder abuse research “lags as much as two decades behind” similar research conducted on child abuse and domestic violence.

Other Types of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse usually occurs in the following forms: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and nursing home neglect. Get more information about these types of elder abuse below.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse, also called psychological abuse, includes inflicting anguish or distress on elders through verbal assaults, insults, threats, intimidation, and a number of other manipulative ways.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual elder abuse is non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an older adult. This includes sexual assault, unwanted touching, and sexual harassment.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse, also known as financial exploitation, is the fraudulent use of an elderly person’s funds, assets, or property. This can include theft, forgery, and the improper use of credit cards, bank accounts, and power of attorney.

Nursing Home Neglect

Nursing home neglect is the refusal or failure to meet the duty of care a facility and its staff has to residents. This includes providing proper food, water, medicine, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, safety, and comfort.

Filing a Nursing Home Physical Abuse Lawsuit

Filing a nursing home physical abuse lawsuit allows victims and their loved ones to get justice.

Almost all nursing home lawsuits are settled out of court in negotiated legal agreements between the lawyers of the victim and the lawyers of the nursing home/insurance company.

Successful nursing home lawsuits allow victims to not only receive financial compensation but also to hold the nursing home accountable for causing undue pain and suffering.

Nursing home lawsuits are typically handled on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay unless the case is successful.

Money from a nursing home abuse claim can be used for:

  • Costs involved in changing nursing homes or caregivers
  • Medical bills
  • Mental health counseling
  • Physical therapy
  • Other expenses

If you’re considering filing a lawsuit, connect with a dedicated nursing home abuse lawyer. These skilled attorneys will work to get you the maximum amount of money in the shortest amount of time.

You and your loved one deserve justice. Get a free legal case review now.

You deserve justice. Get a free legal case review now.

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: June 11, 2021

View 10 References
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  2. Hawes C. (2003). Elder abuse in residential long-term care settings: What is known and what information is needed? National Research Council (US) Panel to Review Risk and Prevalence of Elder Abuse and Neglect. Retrieved May 29, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK98786/

  3. Medicare.gov. (n.d.). Reporting & resolving nursing home problems. Retrieved May 29, 2021 from https://www.medicare.gov/what-medicare-covers/what-part-a-covers/reporting-resolving-nursing-home-problems

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  9. U.S. Government Accountability Office. (n.d.) Elder Abuse. Retrieved May 29, 2021 from https://www.gao.gov/elder-abuse

  10. World Health Organization. (2020). Elder abuse. Retrieved May 29, 2021 from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/elder-abuse