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Is the Solution to Nursing Home Abuse to Care for Elders Ourselves?


As Americans, our individualist society can often disconnect us from those who need our help — especially the elderly. While many other cultures have extended families living in one home together, Americans typically branch off on their own. While this independence can be enjoyable, it also can put vulnerable populations at risk.

As Christians, we need to do what is in our power to protect the vulnerable by ensuring that the elderly in our lives and our communities get the care they need. Furthermore, we need to protect them from the all-too prevalent abuse that elderly folk can be subjected to. We can do this by putting the needs of the vulnerable before our own and being good samaritans to those who need us. Plus, taking care of our elders can often be just as much as a blessing for us as it can be for them.

Nursing Home Abuse

Since American society is structured so independently, elderly members of the community often end up in nursing homes when they can no longer care for themselves. While nursing homes can offer on-hand medical care, they also isolate elders, which may negatively impact them.

Unfortunately, it can also put them at risk for abuse. According to the National Institute on Aging, it can be difficult to identify victims due to their vulnerability:

Most victims of abuse are women, but some are men. Likely targets are older people who have no family or friends nearby and people with disabilities, memory problems, or dementia. Abuse can happen to any older person, but often affects those who depend on others for help with activities of everyday life — including bathing, dressing, and taking medicine. People who are frail may appear to be easy victims.

While the thought of such abuse is astonishing, it’s not rare. In fact, it’s estimated that about 5 million elders are abused in some way every year, whether it is emotionally, physically, sexually, or financially. Though it can be difficult to identify some cases of elderly abuse in nursing homes, some signs include:

  • Bed sores and decubitus ulcers
  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Symptoms of physical and sexual abuse
  • Fall injuries
  • Sepsis

While some signs are more serious than others, this issue is not one to be taken lightly. As Christians, it is our duty to help out others. In this case, it is even more personal, as the victims could be our own parents or family members.

Better Care for Our Elders

While it’s apparent that something needs to be done to address and prevent the abuse of elders, there is no simple solution to it. While some families are able to bring their elderly relatives into their homes, not everyone has the capacity to do so. Plus, the matter is further complicated by the fact that many cases of elderly abuse are committed by family members, typically either an individual’s offspring or spouse.

While statistics like those throw the very concept of a good solution into question, the answer certainly lies in banding together as a community and, more importantly, as a family. Advocacy for elder care can be part of the solution, but the main focus should be on taking care of our own family members as they grow older. In fact, not only can that bring joy into the lives of our family members as they grow older, but it can bring in more joy to our families as well.

Taking care of our aging family provides us with more time to spend with them as they age. It lets us create more memories with kids and grandkids before time runs out. It is important to meet the challenges in life with conviction, a living mindset, and open arms. Furthermore, it allows elder family members to meet the later years of their life with respect and love, giving them the potential to make more decisions for themselves as they grow older.

Even if an elder in a family needs to go live in a nursing home for medical care, we can make sure to visit often and follow up on how their care is going. Finding ways to end the isolation sometimes propagated by nursing homes can be the first step in moving towards a solution.

In-Home Care Options

One factor that is affecting senior care is the lack of geriatric nurse practitioners (GNPs) specialized to give care to the elderly. GNPs can deliver in-home care to support family members taking care of the elderly in their homes. While there is currently a shortage of GNPs, attracting more nurses and doctors to the field of geriatrics could also help to ensure that the elderly get the care they need.

In addition to helping with in-home care, GNPs can be specially equipped to treat conditions more prevalent in older age groups. For example, nurses trained in helping patients with dementia have the tools to bridge communication gaps and better treating patients with dementia.

Putting an End to Isolation

While providing in-home care and moving our elderly family members in with us is a step in the right direction, not everyone will have this option. However, everyone can help to put an end to the isolation of our aging population. Firstly, this can be done by caring for our own family members as they age, either by bringing them to live with us when possible or visiting and checking in on them often when it is not.

Additionally, ending isolation can be done by making sure to take time to visit or volunteer at a nursing home, whether or not you have family there. You can share your special interests this way or you can just share your presence and listen. By listening, you may also be able to identify signs of abuse and prevent abuse from happening again.

It is our Christian duty to take care of our neighbors, whether they are strangers or loved ones. While the healthcare system may not always work in the interest of our neighbors, we can always work to end isolation and prevent the abuse of the elderly in our communities. Caring for our elders as they age can truly be a blessing for everyone involved.

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