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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Elder abuse

The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority just came out with a research report on elder abuse cases for the fiscal year ending 2003. (The rise in reported elder abuse: A review of state and national data. (Eight page PDF file.))

I'm very interested in this because of what happened to my mom at a nursing home this past spring. She was only there for three weeks. But, it was by far the worst three weeks of her life. And ours. She's at home now.

The kinds of cases the report tracks include (quoting):

  • Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
  • Confinement.
  • Financial exploitation.
  • Passive neglect, which occurs when a caregiver fails to provide an older person with life’s necessities, such as food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.
  • Willful deprivation, which occurs when a caregiver denies an older person medication, medical care, shelter, food, or a therapeutic device or other physical assistance. This exposes the person to the risk of physical, mental or emotional harm.

The report has some interesting statistics on the abusers:

Detailed information on alleged abusers was collected in 5,984 of the 7,672 reported cases of elder abuse. About half of alleged abusers identified were male, which paralleled the general Illinois population. Among alleged abusers, 49 percent were not considered caregivers of the victims, 44 percent were informal caregivers, and 7 percent were paid caregivers.

The 7% that were paid care givers is a little startling to me. I thought it would be a lot higher.

What I witnessed at the nursing home was abuse that involved drugs to control the patients.

This particular thing happened right in front of me, my brother, and my oldest daughter the first night my mom was there. The head nurse, an RN, came into my mom's room, sat down on the edge of her bed, and very gently and sincerely took my mom's hands in hers.

Even though I had been in dozens of nursing homes to sign legal documents over the years, I hadn't had a loved one in a nursing home since my grandma passed away when I was 14. Needless to say, I thought what I was witnessing was heartfelt compassion.

In a very empathetic voice the nurse told my mom, most people with chronic lung disease suffer some form of depression. She said she noticed that my mom wasn't taking anything for depression, but she could give my mom something that would take care of that.

Fortunately, my daughter had enough wits about her to speak up. I was so overwhelmed by the entire situation that I just couldn't get my mind on top of anything. I think my brother was in a similar state.

Even though my mom had a tracheostomy at the time, she had never been diagnosed with chronic lung disease.

Later, when no family was around, the nursing home staff used trickery to tank my mom up on pain killers, and who knows what else. My mom's roommate, who was also obviously on drugs, slept all day and all night.

What I observed over the three weeks we were there was something that can only be described as just evil. You had to be there by 6:00 p.m. to see this firsthand.

A staff member with a cart full of drugs would go to the far end of the hall. The patients who were mobile enough would immediately filter down the hall and congregate around him. They wanted to get their drugs as soon as possible. They didn't want to wait for their drugs to be delivered to their rooms. It reminded me of a tank of fish at feeding time.

This is my theory, and I believe with a little effort and other witnesses it's definitely provable. The nursing home, in an effort to cut corners and keep more of the money for the owners, cuts staff to the bare minimum. Especially at night. For instance, one night we were told there was only one LPN and two aids (really just housekeepers) for 76 patients. Because there isn't enough staff on hand to manage all the problems old people have, the staff drugs the old folks, thus making them sleepy or "happy" and much more manageable.

To me, that's abuse.

I'm still digesting the report and may come back to it in another entry.

Posted by Marie at August 17, 2005 11:59 PM


God how I hate nursing homes.
My mother died in one. There was simply no other option for us.
But everytime I'd go, my heart would just break.
This is what our society does when people become powerless - and no longer useful.

It shows our true nature at the most basic level.

I suspect we'd treat children the same, but we need them to work, and pay taxes, and go off to fight the next round of wars when they grow up.

Posted by: JeromeProphet at August 18, 2005 1:07 AM

JP, I'm so sorry to hear about your mom. I hope nothing I said here was hurtful to you, or anyone else, who may have had someone in a nursing home.

Posted by: Marie at August 18, 2005 5:36 PM

Not at all, the more light you can shine on the topic the better.

I played the role of the dutiful son for several years as my mother slipped away.

It was the most painful thing I ever had to deal with - including her passing.

I found myself simmering in a slow rage over the conditions in her nursing home, it was never anything glaring enough to call neglect, or abuse - it was more just the institution itself.

I'm sure it came down to financing. The lack of imaginative approaches to making these "inmates" lives more interesting was evident.

Nursing homes, I have come to believe are warehouses for the poor, and middle class to die in. Some disorders are so costly that in just a year or two an entire life savings can be eaten up, leaving the once proud, poor - and in a nursing home.

So in a way if we live long enough, most of us would eventually end up in a nursing home.

And it's this eventuality for most people that is being denied by society as a whole. None of us looks in the mirror, and suddenly admits they've grown old. It's such a slow process that we deny it, and try not to think about it. But it happens, we either die before we grow older, or we become aged, and then die.

Not enough financial resources are being shared with those who came before us. Again, if they could be put to work, or we still depended upon them in a financial way we'd treat them better. But it seems society treats them as if they've outlived their usefulness, and should just die quietly.

Again, that will us in a few years - one of the oddest things any society can do - we're all insane.

Posted by: jeromeprophet at August 22, 2005 11:20 PM