Nursing homes are meant to a place people can enjoy their golden years, and get taken care of by dedicated people who really value their physical, mental and emotional well being. Unfortunately, not everyone has the best intentions. Some people like to take advantage of the vulnerable, and this is something we’ve seen in the alarming stories about the rise in elder abuse at nursing homes. It’s something that worries me immensely, even though my siblings and I are confident that she is no danger of abuse in the home where she lives. I can’t imagine something so horrible happening to my Mother in a place that’s supposed to protect her.
According to Nursing Home Abuse Guide, “more than two million cases of elder abuse are reported every year, and almost 1 out of every 10 elderly individuals will experience some form of elder abuse.” When it comes to sexual abuse, one study found that there are “more than 20,000 complaints of sexual abuse at long-term care facilities over 20 years – a rate of nearly three such complaints a day.” With these numbers so high, and continuing to rise, those of us with loved ones in nursing homes are rightfully worried, unsure of who to trust and scared of what to do if it happened to their relatives. The issue was even raised in a 2018 Law and Order SVU episode, when an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s was sexually assaulted. It’s a sad case of art imitating real life.
Getting older and retiring comes with many changes and challenges that are hard enough without parents and grandparents having to worry about someone preying on them and hurting them. The hope is that nursing homes will get better with their hiring practices so they’re not employing people who can do such great damage to lives. When you have a loved one in a nursing home, it can be so hard to even know what to do to prevent this, or know what course of action to take when it does happen.
So how do you tell if your parent, grandparent or great-grandparent is a victim of sexual abuse in a nursing home? Are there any tell tale signs that can help us get them away from this danger? Bear in mind that at any age, there’s a lot of guilt and shame associated with the trauma of sexual abuse so the person probably won’t tell you themselves. It’s not something people are going to easily share information about, and forcing them to share might do more harm than good. That means we first have to try and observe our relatives and see if they show any signs of being victimized and abused.
If someone has been the victim of this kind of trauma, you might notice that they have pain when they try to walk or sit down. You might see them hesitate to sit or wince in pain when they do. You might see bloody or torn underwear, or bloody bedding. Another telltale sign is the occurrence of unexplained sexually transmitted diseases (STDS). This would require a doctor to look at them to confirm.
Victims of sexual abuse are often extremely traumatized emotionally. This might present in the form of being emotionally withdrawn, not being present or just acting differently. They may have usually been a cheerful person, and now they are all of a sudden silent and removed. They might also become jumpy when they are touched suddenly, or they become angry and start blaming themselves for even the most minor things. If you know this behavior is not usual, it might be time to investigate further.
What to Do Next
This matter has to be handled delicately, because the victim will also be struggling to come to terms with what happened to them. The last thing you want to do is exacerbate it. If they don’t offer up the information, it might be time for them to talk to a therapist. They might be more comfortable discussing it with people who aren’t their family members. You can consider going to the hospital to get them checked for bruising or other signs of trauma. If you find evidence that confirms there was indeed an assault, it would be time to get in touch with lawyers who deal with this issue in your local area to see the way forward.
The difficulty with telling the signs of assault is some behaviors can just come with old age or illness, so sensitivity is so critical when dealing with this. Ultimately, the most important thing is maintaining the dignity of your loved one so they aren’t unintentionally re-victimized.