The concept that one person could be held responsible for another person’s neglect of themselves is difficult to consider. But when it comes to elderly patients in nursing homes and similar long term care facilities, this may be exactly the case. An elderly individual may forget to complete important care tasks that affect their health and wellness and their assigned caretakers may be the at-fault party.
Here’s what you should know about elder self-neglect, who may be held liable for it, and how to get help from a nursing home abuse lawyer.
What Is Elder Self-Neglect?
As a person ages, their cognitive and physical health begins to decline. Elderly individuals may need assistance with everyday tasks that they didn’t used to need assistance with, like bathing, dressing, eating, taking medication, and going to doctor’s appointments.
When an elderly person is unable to keep themselves clean, fed, and physically safe, this is called self-neglect.
Initially, an elder may only need reminders or light assistance. At this stage, they do not require full-time care and may be able to complete some tasks themselves. But they may need basic help with things like remembering to take their prescriptions or eating a meal.
Caretakers are people who are tasked with helping an elderly person. A caretaker might be a doctor or nurse in a nursing home, a home health nurse, or even a family member.
The Dangers of Elder Self-Neglect
Elder self-neglect typically starts slowly and may not be noticeable initially. For example, an elderly individual may forget their medication for a night or two, or they may go a week without combing their hair. These may be inconsequential and easily fixable issues.
As a person continues to age, self-neglect can become more common. An elder may need more frequent reminders to eat throughout the day, or they may need help choosing an appropriate outfit to wear outside in extreme weather.
In some cases, self-neglect can be deadly. Say an elderly person took multiple doses of a medication because they forgot they took the same prescription earlier in the day. This could lead to a fatal or near-fatal overdose. Or, say they forget to drink fluids and become dehydrated, leading to serious health complications.
Training for nursing home staff, home health nurses, and other similar providers should include how to identify signs of self-neglect and various interventions that may be used to interrupt self-neglect and offer care.
Assessing Liability for Self-Neglect
Many people mistakenly assume that an elderly person that can physically complete certain tasks is responsible for any consequences that occur if those tasks are neglected.
For example, a home health nurse may assume that because their patient can physically bathe themselves that this is not an area the patient needs assistance with. However, if the patient is forgetful or even in the early stages of dementia, they may not remember to bathe. This may not seem like a significant issue, but elderly patients are much more prone to health problems that can come from neglecting to bathe, such as bedsores or skin infections.
In this scenario, it may be assumed that because the patient had the physical ability to bathe that it was their responsibility to do so. But the caretaker could be held liable for injuries instead. If the patient developed a staph infection from an open wound because it was not properly cleaned, and has to be hospitalized for antibiotics as a result, the caretaker may be ordered to pay for these costs.
Another example might be if an elder went outside in the snow without a coat or gloves. If the caretaker monitoring them did not ensure they were properly dressed for the weather and they suffered frostbite as a result, the caretaker may be considered at fault.
A person in the caretaker position has assumed responsibility for the elderly individual’s health and wellbeing. In the overwhelming majority of cases, they know and understand what the patient does and does not need assistance with. Even if an elderly patient can eat by themselves, it’s still the caretaker’s responsibility to ensure that the patient does, in fact, eat. The caretaker may be held accountable for injuries or death for allowing an elder to suffer harm from self-neglect.
Get Help from a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Today
If your elderly loved one’s care is in the hands of someone else who neglects to adequately protect their health and wellbeing, you may have legal recourse. You may be able to bring an insurance claim or lawsuit against the caretaker(s) responsible for your loved one for any injuries they suffered or damages you incurred as a result of their negligence.
Mazow | McCullough, PC are experienced New Hampshire and Massachusetts nursing home abuse lawyers. We can provide your family with comprehensive, compassionate legal assistance after an elderly loved one is harmed.
Contact us today to learn more about nursing home abuse and neglect, or to schedule a consultation to discuss the merits of your case by dialing (978) 744-8000 or toll free at (855) 693-9084.