Learning More About Elder Abuse Investigations

How, exactly, do elder abuse investigations work? After national news that Harper Lee, the famous author of To Kill A Mockingbird, might have been the victim of elder abuse, an article in Slate provided an in-depth look into investigations concerning reports of elder abuse and neglect. While each state has its own methods for looking into reports of nursing home abuse and other violations, it’s important for Californians with elderly parents and loved ones to understand the basics of an elder abuse inquiry.


The Allegedly “Murky Field” of Elder Abuse and Competence

What does elder abuse look like, and how can we be certain when we see it? According to Rosalie Kane, a professor of health policy and management at the University of Minnesota, “the concept of elder abuse is a murky field.” Kane explained that “sometimes there’s too much branding of older people as incompetent,” and that can complicate conceptions of elder abuse. In other words, Kane believes that investigations into elder abuse allegations often aren’t taken seriously because of suspicions about the victim’s mental capacity.

Dr. Peter Lichtenberg, who serves as director of the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University, described the “multi-step process” he uses when determining whether an elderly person is competent. He begins, he explains, “with 2-3 hours of cognitive testing to measure things like learning and memory, executive function, problem solving, attention span, language, and spatial awareness.” He then explores the close relationships the elderly person currently has to look for any signs of abuse or exploitation.

Looking for Signs of Elder Abuse and Neglect in an Investigation

What are some of the obvious warning signs of physical abuse when it comes to the elderly? According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), physical abuse takes many forms. Some of the most common signs of physical abuse include but are not limited to:

  •      Slap marks;
  •      Pressure marks;
  •      Certain kinds of burns or blisters;
  •      Bruises; and
  •      Broken bones.

In addition to physical abuse, neglect is also a serious problem for elderly Californians in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, as well as those who receive care from family members. Some warnings signs of neglect include but are not limited to:

  •      Unexplained changes in behavior or alertness;
  •      Withdrawal from normal activities; and
  •      Any other unusual behavior.

The NCEA explains that one of the first steps in an elder abuse investigation typically involves adult protective services. Indeed, the NCEA reports that these workers “usually are to first responders to reports of elder abuse and neglect.” In California, the Ombudsman’s Office, administered through the California Department of Aging (CDA), “has jurisdiction for investigating reports of abuse that occur at nursing homes, board and care homes, residential facilities for the elderly, or long-term care facilities.”

Depending on the specific facts involved in the case, law enforcement officials also may be alerted. To be sure, the California Department of Social Services emphasizes that the Ombudsman’s office has “the responsibility to cross-report allegations of abuse to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, public agencies, and licensing entities having jurisdiction over these cases.”

Are you concerned about an elderly loved one’s safety in a nursing home or assisted-living facility in California? Elder abuse and neglect may not always be obvious, and it’s important to look for signs. If you do suspect that someone you loved has been the victim of nursing home abuse, you should contact an experienced San Diego nursing home abuse attorney to discuss your case. You may be able to help your loved one to seek compensation.

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