October is Residents Rights Month. We use this month to recognize and raise awareness about the rights of residents of long-term care facilities. People who live in nursing homes, assisted living centers, and other types of long-term care facilities deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. All too often however, residents of long-term care facilities struggle to realize and exercise their rights. Contra Costa Senior Legal Services supports long-term care residents and advocates for them to learn about and fight for their rights.
One important right that residents of long-term care facilities have is the right to be free from abuse, unnecessary restraint, and neglect. In California, unnecessarily restraining, abusing, or neglecting an older adult all constitute elder abuse. Elder abuse can be a civil or criminal offense in California. While many long-term care facilities treat their residents with care and respect, too many facilities fail in this regard.
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is a broad term that encompasses different forms of abuse. One form of elder abuse is physical abuse. Physical abuse not only encompasses the infliction of physical pain or injury on an elder, but it also includes sexual abuse. In addition, physical abuse includes the use of physical or chemical restraints, such as psychotropic medication, for punishment or in a way that a doctor did not authorize. Unfortunately, the use of medical as chemical restraints is common in long-term care facilities, especially for residents who have dementia.
Another type of elder abuse is neglect. There are two kinds of neglect. The first kind is self-neglect which is where an elder fails to meet their own needs. The second kind of neglect occurs when a caregiver fails to provide an elder with medical care, nutrition, clothing or shelter.
Neglect can also occur when a caregiver does not help an elder with personal hygiene and fails to protect the senior from health and safety hazards.
Other forms of elder abuse include financial abuse, abandonment, isolation, or any other treatment that results in physical harm, pain, or mental suffering. Financial abuse is one of the most common forms of elder abuse and occurs when someone wrongfully takes or uses an elder’s money or other property. Persons in long-term care facilities have the right to be free from all forms of elder abuse.
How to Support a Long-Term Care Resident
You can act as an advocate for your loved one and help prevent abuse by participating in that person’s care. Start by creating a relationship with the staff at the facility and hold them accountable for ensuring that the resident receives the care that they need. Make sure your loved one understands their rights and follow up about any issues or problems.1
If you have a loved one in a long-term care facility, visit that person frequently so that you can make sure that the resident is being treated and cared for property. When you visit, you can look for signs of abuse. Signs of abuse can include bruises, scratches, or other marks on the person’s body. You can also look for marks caused by physical restraints and for signs of chemical restraint and abuse. Signs of chemical restraint can include vacant expressions, drooling, drowsiness, and dry or cracked lips. Visits can also be a good time to make sure that the facility is not neglecting its residents. Signs of neglect include poor hygiene, the smell of urine, residents left unattended for long periods of time, unexplained weight loss, frequent falls, and signs of skin break down or sores.2
It can be hard for residents of long-term care to advocate for their rights, making it imperative that family members play an important advocacy role for their loved ones. Click here to learn more about how to advocate for and support your loved ones in long-term care.
Where to Report Abuse
If you or a loved one living in long term is experiencing elder abuse, you can report this abuse to the following organizations:
Contra Costa Senior Legal Services: call (925) 609-7900 to learn more.
Adult Protective Services: call (925) 602-4179 or (877) 839-4347 to report abuse.
Empowered Aging: call (925) 685-2070 to learn more.