As many people age, they may become more dependent on others for help meeting their most basic needs. These people are vulnerable to mistreatment by their caregivers in the form of abuse or neglect.
The law prohibits both abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults. While some people consider neglect a particular form of abuse, there is an important distinction between the two.
Broadly speaking, neglect is the failure to provide adequate attention to someone who is not able to take care of his or her own needs. According to the National Adult Protective Services Association, there are different types of neglect, including:
• Abandonment, i.e., deserting a person without making alternative arrangements for his or her care
• Financial neglect, i.e., failing to take care of a person’s financial obligations when one is acting as a fiduciary
• Emotional neglect, i.e., belittling or disregarding a person’s needs, causing emotional pain
• Physical neglect, i.e., failing to provide adequate nutrition, hygiene, medical care, etc.
While neglect is failing to provide for someone else’s needs, abuse is willfully acting in such a way that poses a risk of harm to a vulnerable individual. The Administration for Community Living describes several different types of abuse. Emotional abuse involves intimidation or humiliation through verbal or nonverbal acts that inflict mental pain and anguish. Physical abuse involves using force or chemical means to cause physical injury.
Family members of nursing home residents who suspect neglect or abuse may not know what to do. Fortunately, every state has adult protective services and long-term care ombudsmen who can help. A vulnerable individual’s well-being may depend on someone reporting possible abuse and neglect as soon as possible.