Suspicious deaths in nursing homes often go undetected
The number of autopsies performed in the United States has drastically dropped since the 1970s. In Kentucky nursing homes and in elder care facilities across the country, the lack of investigative measures after an elder’s death may conceal negligence or a fatal personal injury. Kentucky law requires that anyone who suspects abuse or neglect of a nursing home resident report it to Adult Protective Services, but often the damage goes undetected and unreported.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autopsies in the U.S. fell over 50 percent, from 19.3 percent in 1972, to 8.5 percent in 2007. For people between the ages of 65 and 74, only 5 percent of deaths were autopsied. The investigative website ProPublica reported that autopsies were conducted on 2 percent of seniors who died in 2008, and less than 1 percent for those seniors in elder care facilities.
Advance age, and health conditions such as dementia, may lead some people to presume a senior has died of natural causes, when he or she may actually have been the victim of neglect or nursing home injury. Multi-media news source NPR cited a report in which almost half of the doctors surveyed in a University of Colorado study misdiagnosed the cause of death for a senior who died of injuries sustained in a fall.
The United States Census Bureau projects the population of Americans over 65 to reach 88.5 million by 2015. The growth of an aging American population may require higher standards of oversight for the prevention of fatal abuse and neglect in nursing homes, and a renewed dedication to identifying cause of death.