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Elder abuse, neglect and medical powers of attorney

Do you have the medical power of attorney for your mother, father or another relative who is in a nursing home?

If so, there's a tremendous amount of responsibility lying on you. You could be the only person able to stop any abuse or neglect that's going on.

When a person is no longer able to make sound decisions about his or her own medical care due to dementia or another disorder, the medical power of attorney written by an attorney experienced in elder law springs into action. From that point forward, you have to call the shots.

That means that if there is a problem, the nursing home has to contact you. It also means that your relative no longer really has any say-so about his or her care -- so his or her complaints may be dismissed as mere imaginings or the delusions of a disordered mind.

To protect the person you love against abuse or neglect, take the following steps:

1. Visit often. Your presence alone may encourage the staff at the nursing home to make certain that your relative is cared for properly. Vary the time of day that you visit, so that you aren't entirely predictable in your routine. That way, no one can anticipate your presence and set things up to look better than they normally are.

2. Be alert. Look for signs of neglect or abuse:

  • Bruises anywhere and restraint marks around the wrists
  • Unexplained injuries
  • A sudden withdrawn nature or fearfulness
  • A lack of interest in anything
  • Vaginal or rectal bleeding, which can be a sign of sexual abuse
  • Missing items, especially those of strong sentimental value
  • Bedsores from laying in one position too long
  • Unclean bedding, clothing or hair
  • Missing glasses, dentures, walkers or canes
  • Missing money from his or her personal funds

Any of these things -- especially if there are more than one -- can signal a lack of adequate care or outright abuse.

3. Use your authority. Since you have your relative's medical power of attorney, you can demand answers from the home's administration. You can also arrange for an independent medical evaluation to see if there's signs of abuse or neglect.

For more information on what to do if you suspect that an elderly relative is being neglected or abused, consider exploring your legal options.

Source: American Psychological Association, "Elder Abuse and Neglect: In Search of Solutions," accessed Jan. 19, 2018

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