In 2014, there were 15,600 nursing homes in the United States, with a population of 1.4 million seniors. According to data provided in a CDC study on long-term nursing home care, 50.4% of these residents had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia. With half of the nursing home population cognitively vulnerable, it is vital that these seniors be in an atmosphere that is safe and nurturing. Unfortunately, the status of nursing home care in the U.S. does not provide children of seniors with the assurance that they can trust their parents to be safe in the nursing home environment.
A Place Of Potential Abuse
The modern nursing home is an overcrowded, understaffed place where seniors often get lost in the daily grind of bed checks, baths, and feedings, where residents often go unchecked for hours on end, leaving many vulnerable to potential physical and sexual abuse. According to a recent report conducted by the news provider CNN, more than 1,000 facilities were cited for mishandling reported cases of sexual assault, rape and other sexual abuse between 2013-2016. Ten percent of these facilities had been cited multiple times. It is estimated that these numbers don’t reveal a true representation of the problem. Many cases of sexual abuse go unreported, and not all of those that are reported result in a formal citation.
Signs Of Potential Sexual Abuse
If your senior loved one resides in a nursing home, these abuse statistics can be frightening. How do you know that your parent or relative is not being sexually abused? The signs of sexual abuse can be subtle and often difficult to distinguish from the normal effects of aging. In addition, some of the signs can only be seen by inspecting the genital region, making it uncomfortable for adult children who don’t want to cross that personal space. If you are one of those people who are uncomfortable with the personal contact, take note of the following signs of sexual abuse:
- Problems walking or sitting
- Symptoms of agitation, particularly during physical contact
- Refusal to bath or undress around others
- Emotional withdrawal from others
- Sudden requests to change nursing homes, care options or roommates
- Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Unusual behavior around certain caretakers
- Verbal complaints of itching, burning, pain or discomfort
If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to determine more information. If your parent is unwilling or unable to talk to you about being sexually assaulted, and you are too squeamish to physically search for evidence of abuse, call on the family doctor. They will be able to check for visual signs of abuse, including bloody/stained underwear, the presence of a sexually transmitted disease, bleeding from the vagina or anus, bruises on the inner thighs or the area around the genitals, or pelvic trauma. If any of these signs are found, the abuse needs to be addressed.
What Do I Do If I Suspect Abuse Occurred?
If you suspect that your senior relative is being sexually abused, don’t wait. Report the allegation to the local authorities or your local Adult Protective Services office. Most cities have representatives to investigate crimes against the elderly. If it is determined that sexual abuse is occurring, your loved one will be assigned an advocate who will interview him/her and ensure that charges are filed against the perpetrator(s).
You should contact the administrator of the nursing home to allow them to begin an investigation into who is responsible. You should move your loved one to another nursing home if possible. Your advocate will assist you in setting up counseling sessions for your loved one and medication if necessary.
Your parents deserve to live their golden years in a place that is nurturing and supportive of their interests. While it is unfortunate that so many nursing homes fail to protect their residents from sexual abuse, it is heartening to know that those in power are continuing to make it harder for such abuse to happen.