How COVID-19 Affected Elder Abuse – Lawyers Weigh In

Elder neglect lawyers and elderly abuse lawyers serve older adults who fall victim to harm, abuse, or neglect by trusted individuals or caregivers. Such abuse is against the law and common decency. Professional caregivers must abide by lawful obligations to protect their patients, not exploit them, whether at home or at a facility. Elder abuse is considered an area of medical malpractice that elder neglect lawyers and elderly abuse lawyers practice under personal injury law. Nonetheless, despite the threat of medical malpractice, on any given day, such abuse to older adults is often under-reported, if not unreported. Abuse of older adults was bad enough, then COVID-19 happened.

COVID-19 has created an environment for older adults, making them more susceptible to abuse. The pandemic greatly increased the mistreatment of older adults because it even further isolated an older population that was already isolated in general. Cases of elder neglect and elderly abuse during the pandemic increased and manifested itself in physical, psychological, and financial forms. Be it in their own homes, at a clinic, hospital, senior living community, nursing home, or assisted living facility, too often older adults were subject, intentionally or not, to some form of abuse and mistreatment. 

What is Elder Abuse?

The law defines elder abuse as an act by a caregiver or person of trust that can cause or create risk of harm to people aged 60 or older. Abuse can take many forms. It can be an intentional, physical act of violence like hitting, pushing, kicking, or slapping, or unwanted or forced physical contact that is sexual in nature. Abuse can take the form of neglect and the failure to act or provide for an older adult’s basic needs like food, water, and hygiene. Abuse can also be emotional or psychological, verbal or nonverbal behaviors, and threats by caregivers and trusted individuals directed at the older people they are caring for that cause them anguish, distress, or fear. Finally, seniors are commonly subjected to financial abuse. The unauthorized use of their money, savings, benefits, and property is illegal. 

How the Pandemic Contributed to Elder Abuse

Though the pandemic had a devastating impact on the population as a whole, the threat of serious illness and death that COVID-19 presented to older adults placed them at great risk. Much attention was given to the high risk of infection and mortality rates the virus posed to such a vulnerable population. Unfortunately, the consequences of some protective measures enacted by healthcare and public officials to protect older adults from the virus also made them particularly susceptible to abuse. In short, all too often, the policies designed to help older adults created circumstances that placed them at greater risk for abuse, neglect, and exploitation in the hands of people or facilities intended to protect them. A study published in mid-2021 in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry suggested that 20% of older people, or 1 in 5, had experienced some elder abuse during the pandemic. That jump was nearly 84% above the pre-pandemic estimates.

Types of Abuse

Older populations experienced social isolation, difficulties in accessing needed care and supplies, financial hardship, and persistent anxiety about avoiding COVID-19. Forced isolation and confinement reduced access to caregivers and much-needed respite care, which fueled existing stresses, emotional strains, and tensions common among older patients and their caregivers. In many instances, abuse toward older adults increased as they were forced to shelter in place with their abusers, at home or in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, where they were under the care of understaffed or questionable temporary workers. It should be noted that even when abuse or neglect was not present or intended, cases of inadequate care occurred because caregivers at facilities, overwhelmed by staff shortages, were increasingly concerned with their own health and safety. 

Isolation and fear caused by the pandemic also saw the rise of psychological abuse of seniors. Older adults experienced increased anxiety, fear, and emotional mistreatment due to openly shaming, disrespecting, or humiliating them or simply harassing or threatening them. 

Older adults were more vulnerable to financial exploitation during the pandemic, too. Isolated and with little oversight, the diversion or improper use of their life savings and resources without permission was all too common. Combined with a lack of oversight, fraudsters also took full advantage of the isolation, fear, confusion, and potential lack of awareness that seniors experienced during the pandemic with phone and email scams.

Why Contact Hardy, Wolf & Downing

All these factors combined created an environment where older adults’ abuse rates increased during the pandemic. If you believe a parent or an older loved one suffered some form of physical, psychological, and/or financial abuse and exploitation, and was a victim of medical malpractice due to the pandemic, contact the law offices of Hardy, Wolf & Downing. All initial consultations are free, and we have some of Maine’s most experienced elderly abuse lawyers who will gladly sit down with you to discuss your case. You and/or your loved one may be eligible to receive just compensation for that suffering. Call Hardy, Wolf & Downing today for an appointment.

Talk to An Attorney Today

Learn more