Assisted living facilities are supposed to house people with fewer care needs than those in nursing homes. While a nursing home resident may require 24-hour care from doctors, registered nurses, and other healthcare professionals, the typical assisted living resident is supposed to be largely independent, but needs help with some daily activities such as bathing, dressing, eating, or medication management.
Nevertheless, elder abuse in assisted living facilities is a widespread and growing problem. A nationwide U.S. Department of Justice survey estimated that:
- More than 20% of residents experienced verbal abuse
- At least 16.3% of residents suffered psychological abuse ● 15% of residents reported neglect in the form of delayed or withheld medication.
- 15% of residents reported neglect in the form of delayed or withheld medication.
There have been far fewer elder abuse studies conducted in assisted living facilities than in nursing homes but, using the scant available data, we know that tens of thousands of the 800,000 elders currently residing in assisted living environments have suffered some form of abuse.
Elder Abuse: A Growing Problem for an Aging Population
If the rate of abuse in assisted living facilities continues, there are troubling implications for the health and wellbeing of our elders in the future. Around one million Americans currently live in some type of senior living community. That number is expected to double over the next ten years.
By 2050, it’s estimated there will be 19 million people over the age of 85 in the United States (compared with 5.6 million today). Even this estimate – based on numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau – may be conservative; predictions made 20 years ago were significantly lower, and have since been dramatically outpaced by improvements in healthcare and mortality. During the next 20 years, around 75 million people nationwide are expected to move into the 65-and-over demographic. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the state’s over-65 population will increase by 4 million over the next two decades.
The aging population combined with the rapid growth of the assisted living industry means that, increasingly, assisted living facilities are becoming health care delivery institutions, with regulation and oversight failing to keep pace.
In addition, as the population ages and our senior living communities swell, there’s a risk that the corporatization of elder care will become increasingly pronounced, putting profits before people and endangering our loved ones through negligence and abuse. If, as the National Research Council contends, “the national response to elder mistreatment remains hidden, poorly characterized, and largely unaddressed,” we can expect to see a sharp increase in cases of elder abuse in assisted living facilities.
Holding Perpetrators of Assisted Living Abuse Accountable
Clearly, there is plenty of work to be done bringing to light, reducing, and preventing instances of elder abuse. Families, caregivers, and physicians can help by knowing how to recognize the signs of elder abuse, which may exhibit as physical injuries and/or psychological distress. If abuse is discovered, the resident should be relocated to a safer environment and the facility reported to authorities.
The most effective way of persuading senior living community operators to consign elder abuse to history is by confronting wrongdoing with the full force of the law. In most cases, this means filing a civil lawsuit against the facility with the help of an experienced elder abuse lawyer who specializes in assisted living abuse. Pursuing a significant financial recovery from corporations who routinely enable the abuse and neglect of the elderly is our best hope for creating positive change.