Make Known Unknown (Blog 9)

Neglecting Our Elderly


As a young girl I remember visiting assisted living communities, nursing homes, and hospices to see aging and dying relatives.  These homes tried to foster a homey atmosphere, decorating for holidays and providing activities to the elderly.  As a child, and even today, I trusted that I left my loved ones in good care.  However, this is a naive assumption.  Research documents that these organizations mismanage and neglect our aging population.

We live in a culture of ageism, one that values youth, and devalues the previous generation.   For years ,the mainstream media marginalized the discrimination that elderly people face today in America.  For example, many individuals remain largely unaware that the nation’s coroner and medical examiner offices’ frequently misdiagnose and carelessly examine the elderly upon their death.  These offices are responsible for examining sudden and unusual fatalities; however they fail to properly perform these duties for a variety of reasons.

ProPublica’s studies found that these agencies are crippled by chronic underfunding, a shortage of trained doctors, and absent national standards.   Within this study, investigators researched elderly death cases discovering that a significant percentage of elderly suffered from mistreatment before their death.  This mistreatment included medication errors, dehydration, malnourishment, decubitus ulcers (bed sores), and suffocation.  Investigators exposed the agencies’ systematic flaws allowing for elderly death cases to be ignored or improperly addressed.  Some of these deficiencies include:

  • In most sates doctors can sign off/ fill out death certificates without seeing the body, or even visiting the patient in months.  This allows apparent abuse to go unnoticed
  • Doctors misdiagnose the cause of death as natural for convenience.
  • Coroners and medical examiners almost never investigate elderly deaths when doctor’s identify the death as natural.
  • Autopsies of seniors have decreased even as our aging population grows (37%-17% from 1972-2007).

Now, it is more critical than ever to improve our elderly assistance programs through more regulated systems and higher standards for their caretakers.  Not only have individuals suffered from the systems’ shortcomings, but soon we will too.

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8 thoughts on “Neglecting Our Elderly

  1. I have heard similar things about what you researched. There are horror stories out there about the environments the elderly are left it. Also another interesting layer to this topic is the astronomical cost of placing a family member into a home. This article by CNN money touches on some of the reasons costs are so high.
    http://money.cnn.com/2013/04/09/retirement/nursing-home-costs/
    But also the homes are often privately owned and the owners can jack up the prices and pocket a lot of the difference. There is a whole host of sour media out there on that as well.

  2. This is an interesting blog post. I have had family members in nursing homes, and it is scary to think that when we were not present they might have been mistreated. And when the victim may be an old lady with Alzheimer’s, it makes it all the more difficult to discover the true mistreating’s and the all the more easy for the nursing homes to get away with their mistreating’s.
    It makes me think of the nursing home from Happy Gilmore. In the movie Ben Stiller plays the role of an abusive nursing home care taker, and while this is done in a comical sense, the reality is not so funny.

  3. I have heard about the mistreatment of the elderly in nursing homes before, but I always thought it was the result of one negligent home or nurse. i did not consider the idea that there might be systematic faults that allow these errors and mistreatment to regularly occur. What laws are in place now to regulate nursing homes? When was the last time they were updated?

  4. This is an interesting topic that I think is not talked about as often as it should be. I agree with you that specific standards and regulations need to be put in place in order to prevent these shortcomings. These assisted living facilities and nursing homes should be expected to provide the best possible care for elderly people who are require their services.

  5. Extremely enlightening post. Very scary to think that our elderly loved ones who have passed away in recent years may have not received the proper care or medical attention leading up to their deaths or proper autopsies after death. Really gets you thinking.

  6. This is not the first time that I have heard about elderly abuses within the different home systems. My dad has been extensively researching different nursing homes in our area for a while now to ensure that whichever home he picks for my Grandmother is more than adequate. It is upsetting to think about these issues, especially when you think about your own family.

  7. Did you have a lot of elderly relatives?

    Would more elderly folks be better off with relatives? One aspect of this is that we have created a whole industry based on eldercare that used to be absorbed to a greater degree by families. I am not sure that is necessarily superior. It can cause stress on everyone. Care quality is not at all guaranteed. Still, I wonder if some eldercare could be home-based if developed more visiting nurses or other care providers to support willing families.

  8. I think it depends on the situation. In some circumstances elderly folks are better off living with relatives; however some people do not have that option. Some elderly might receive superior care in a nursing home compared to at home. The other apparent issue is that people are living longer with chronic illnesses. While it’s not a perfect system, the larger scale assisted living homes provide a location for the rapidly growing aging population.

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