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Elder abuse: Should families put web cams in nursing homes?

It is a sad truth that older people here in Florida and around the country can be particularly vulnerable to abuse. They often don't have the same mental and cognitive abilities as they did when they were younger, so they may have difficulty communicating mistreatment or understanding that abuse is occurring. Some families have decided to take matters into their own hands and have installed web cams in the nursing home rooms of their older relatives to monitor their treatment. Some worry that this could be an invasion of privacy, but others say they only want to protect their loved ones from elder abuse.

Several states have laws that expressly allow families to install cameras in nursing home rooms, but Florida is not one of them. Some experts say that beyond protecting older people, the cameras can also serve as an invasion of privacy, since many residents may need to change clothes, use the bathroom or conduct other private activities in front of the camera. Many elderly people may not be able to properly consent to being recorded, due to dementia or other cognitive disorders. Some reports suggest that children of older parents may not ask for the parent's consent even if he or she is capable of giving it.

Then there is the question of roommates, since many older folks in nursing homes have to share a room with someone else. That person and his or her family may not want to consent to being recorded. Other experts argue that this is a solution that doesn't address the main issue of inadequate long-term care options in the United States. Nursing home workers fear that the cameras cultivate mistrust and erode their confidence.

The question of whether to allow cameras in nursing home rooms for residents' safety is not an easy one to answer. However, the potential for elder abuse is troubling enough that some families are responding with a resounding "yes." No matter what the laws about cameras are here in Florida, it is important that families realize they have legal options if they believe their loved one has suffered abuse. An experienced elder law attorney can help a family navigate this difficult issue.

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