It’s an important reminder that senior abuse and neglect happens at the hands of trusted individuals and can even elude doctors and authorities. Vigilant family, friends, neighbors and whistleblowers help to reveal elder abuse issues and stop the hemorrhaging before others are affected.
Often, suspicious senior deaths are said to be natural. This is happening for a number of reasons. Flaws in the senior care system are allowing for abuse to be overlooked in seniors. Problems include:
- Doctors/physicians are able to fill out a death certificate for a senior without seeing the body, or without having seen the patient recently;
- Doctors can get the cause of death wrong, and there typically isn’t an independent investigation of the certificate;
- Assumptions are made on behalf of doctors and coroners/medical examiners that a senior death was the result of the natural aging process, or that is was “their time”;
- Senior autopsies are occurring with less regularity as a result;
- U.S. autopsies on seniors dropped to 17 percent from 37 percent between 1972 and 2007, according to a government analysis.
However, some states are taking matters into their own hands to help prevent senior abuse from being overlooked. Counties have formed elder death review teams to assess potential neglect/abuse. Unfortunately, society seems to value seniors less and less despite the fact that their population is growing year after year due to living longer and healthier lives with the help of new technologies. Another issue is that death certificates sometimes contain errors or are incomplete. Doctors, who typically lack forensic training, sometimes aren’t equipped to determine whether a death was extraordinary or routine on a death certificate, which can mean abuse was overlooked.
Furthermore, coroners can be reticent to perform an autopsy or to look into a case. It was discovered in 2008 that autopsies were performed on only 2 percent of 1.8 million seniors who died. This occurs because many attribute senior death as natural at a certain age.
Yet coroners should be looking for specific warning signs in autopsies to make sure a senior didn’t die before his/her time. Coroners will look for:
- food in a senior’s stomach to make sure they’ve eaten recently;
- eyeball fluid to ensure that she/he was not malnourished;
- cleanliness and attire.
- fractures or broken bones;
- bedsores, which would imply caretakers were negligent.
In Arkansas, nursing homes are required to report all senior deaths to the coroner. It’s a law that’s been in effect since 1999. Any suspicious deaths must be reported to law enforcement and state regulators.
Criminal elder abuse charges require the services of an elder abuse attorney. To learn more about how the elder abuse lawyers at Garcia, Artigliere & Medby can help, call us today at 1-800-281-8515.