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What is the difference between nursing home abuse and neglect?

This blog has previously discussed the signs and symptoms one can look for that may be indicative of the abuse of a loved one who is in a long-term care facility or nursing home. While lay persons often use the words 'abuse' and 'neglect' interchangeably in such instances, as with many words, the terms have separate meanings in a legal context. Further, there is a third term, 'exploitation,' that also is reportable to the Connecticut Department of Social Services, and might be actionable in court.

As usual, we look to the state's statutory scheme for definitions of these legal terms. The controlling law in this case would be Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 17b-450. Here, we find several definitions for terms used in the context of the protection of the elderly or the infirm. For our purposes we will focus on abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Abuse is the intentional causing of pain or anguish, either physical or emotional, or the willful withholding of necessary services the elderly person needs to maintain his or her health or well-being. Note that abuse could generally be caused by anyone, whether it is a designated caretaker, another resident or a third party altogether.

Neglect may sound very similar to the latter part of the abuse definition, as it also includes the withholding of services that are required to maintain a person's health or well-being; however, one element is removed and one is added. Neglect does not require that such withholding be 'willful.' Therefore, even forgetting to do certain tasks required for an individual care, even if not purposeful, might be neglect. However, neglect requires that the person being reported have a duty to care for the individual. Thus, the statutes states that neglect must be the withholding of services by a 'caretaker.'

Finally, exploitation is the use of an elderly person for another person's gain or profit, whether monetary or personal. In this case, it doesn't matter whether the exploiter is a caretaker or someone else.

These definitions come up in the context of mandatory reporting of incidents by those required by law to so, such as doctors or other professionals. However, they are good guidelines as to how to define the terms in cases where compensation may need to be pursued through a civil suit. It should be remembered that the above is general information and every case is different. Those with questions on nursing home abuse might want to consider what options are available to them. This could help offset any damages or losses caused by the matter.

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