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It Happens Every Day: Nursing Home Abuse

    “At 83 years old, unable to speak, unable to fight back, she was even more vulnerable than she was as a little girl fleeing her homeland. In fact, she was as vulnerable as an infant when she was raped. The dignity which she always displayed during her life, which was already being assaulted so unrelentingly by Alzheimer’s disease, was dealt a final devastating blow by this man. The horrific irony is not lost upon me … that the very thing she feared most as a young girl fleeing her homeland happened to her in the final, most vulnerable days of her life.”
    – Mary Fischer, at the sentencing of the man who raped her mother.

    Tragically, it happens every day across America: elderly patients suffer from abuse and neglect at the hands of their caretakers. In the above instance, 83-year old Sonja Fischer, suffering from Alzheimer’s, was raped by the man whose job it was to attend to her well-being. After an investigation, it was discovered that the abuser had been working for the facility for eight years, and his vile conduct had gone unnoticed. That is not surprising because many nursing home patients, like Sonja Fischer, are afflicted with Alzheimer’s or dementia, making them unable to communicate with their families.

    However, even when a nursing home patient does have the ability to communicate, too often they are too fearful to do so. Instead, they suffer extreme loneliness and depression. That is why it is up to their families to be diligent and carefully monitor their loved ones.

    How To Handle It

    First, visit your family member often, not just during holidays or birthdays. He or she needs to continue to feel connected, and frequent visits are the only way to notice changes in behavior or even signs of physical neglect. And while visiting, do a little investigative work of your own. Ask your elderly relative questions. Inspect them for bruises, cuts, or bedsores. Look around the room to see whether it is clean. Make sure the food menu lines up with nutritional needs.

    Also, ask your elderly relative whether someone responds when he or she calls for help, and how long it takes for that response. Ignoring repeated calls for help is often a sign of neglect.

    Second, if you suspect abuse or neglect, immediately report it to the administrator, and make sure that report is documented in black and white. Your complaint then becomes a part of the record, should you need it.

    Finally, stay on top of it! A nursing home should not be a warehouse; it should be a welcoming, comforting environment where your loved one is safe and cared for. The more you show up and show an interest, the less likely it is your mother, father, aunt or uncle will suffer abuse or neglect.

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