1.3 million elderly Americans live in nursing homes. While the vast majority of these nursing home residents are safe and well-cared-for, some are not. As the percentage of elderly people increases and nursing homes come under more pressure to cut costs, cases of nursing home abuse are on the rise. Since many elderly people are often too ashamed or scared to report abuse, it’s often up to their relatives to do so. Which is why it’s important to be aware of the common signs of nursing home abuse. Read on to find out more about the signs of nursing home abuse, as well as what to do if you think an elderly person is being mistreated.
Different Types of Nursing Home Abuse and Their Signs
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes five different types of elder abuse. These are physical abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and financial abuse or exploitation:
Some of the signs of physical nursing home abuse include:
- Unexplained sprains, dislocations, or broken bones
- Open wounds, cuts, and burn injuries
- Bruises, black eye, and suspicious marks
- Signs of restraint, such as wrist marks or bruising
- Broken eyeglasses
- Fear of physical contact
- Caregiver refusing to leave you alone with the elderly person
Coordination problems and mobility issues can make elders more prone to injury. But if injuries appear more frequent or severe, or if caregivers often make excuses to explain these injuries, this could be evidence of physical abuse.
Psychological or Emotional Abuse
This form of nursing home abuse can include verbal or nonverbal behavior that causes fear, distress, anguish, or mental pain. Some common signs of psychological or emotional abuse include:
- Violent or agitated behavior
- Behavioral or personality changes
- Regressive repetitive actions such as sucking their thumb or rocking
- Excessive worrying, becoming secretive or fearful
- Difficulty concentrating
- Seeming depressed, withdrawn, or confused
Signs of psychological or emotional abuse are harder to recognize as they can easily be confused with symptoms of dementia. If you notice these signs, talk to a caregiver or your relative’s doctor to ask about an official diagnosis.
Sexual abuse involves all kinds of unwanted sexual interaction, including both physical and non-physical contact. Some of the signs of physical sexual abuse are:
- Stained, torn, or missing underwear
- Unexplained STIs
- Bruising near the genitals or breasts
- Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding
As well as these specific signs of sexual abuse, you may notice some of the signs of physical or emotional abuse listed above.
Neglect is the most common form of nursing home abuse. Signs of neglect include:
- Lack of personal hygiene, bad odors, or disheveled appearance
- Dirty clothes or bed clothing
- Uncomfortable or unsafe living conditions such as a lack of heat or faulty equipment
- Weight loss or dehydration
- Infections, bed sores, or not healing properly
- A sharp decline in physical or mental health
Any failure to provide the elderly person with adequate care and basic provisions is a form of neglect. You should also be suspicious if the home doesn’t take action when you express concern about injuries or changes in the elderly person’s condition.
Financial Abuse or Exploitation
Elderly people in nursing homes are vulnerable to financial exploitation. Some signs of this form of abuse include:
- Missing cash or possessions
- Changes in financial situation
- Unexplained account withdrawals or payments
- Charges for unusual services, subscriptions, or goods
- Changes in account details, policies, titles, or wills
When the elderly person first enters the nursing home, find out how the home manages the residents’ cash access and payments. This way it’s easier to notice changes or anything out of the ordinary.
Acting on Common Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
As nursing home abuse and its signs can vary, it’s important to find out more if you become concerned about an elderly person. Here are some ways you can approach the situation if you suspect potential nursing home abuse:
Talk to the Elderly Person
It’s important to talk to the elderly person before jumping to conclusions. But, even if they are being abused, they may be too scared or ashamed to confirm your suspicions. If they get defensive when you ask specific questions about injuries, finances, or behavior changes, try asking more general questions. These could relate to what activities they’ve done this week or how they get on with the other residents. This will help you find out more about how the home operates and how the elderly person feels about their life there.
Talk to Staff
Behavioral changes and declining health are normal experiences for elders and may not necessarily indicate abuse. Discuss your concerns with staff for more information and to see how they’re addressing the situation. Try and find out who the elderly person’s favorite carer is and make a point of talking to them first.
Visit at Different Times
If possible, visit the nursing home at different times and on different days of the week. This will give you a chance to meet more members of staff and see how they interact with your relative, as well as how your relative responds to them. It’s also a good idea to watch how the elderly person interacts with other residents. It could be another resident abusing your relative rather than a staff member.
Pay Attention to Nursing Home Conditions
Cleanliness, safety, basic provisions, and sufficient staffing are all paramount to run an effective nursing home. If you notice any of these lacking, this could suggest potential neglect or abuse. As well as inspecting the elderly person’s room, pay attention to the communal areas, hallways, elevators, and mobility equipment. Find out what activities the nursing home provides for mental and physical stimulation. You should also establish the staff to resident ratio and what the practices are for providing basics such as drinking water.
Take Action to Stop Nursing Home Abuse
If you’ve noticed some of these common signs of nursing home abuse and are concerned that your elderly relative is at risk, it’s time to take action. While you might consider sharing your suspicions with the nursing home manager, it’s possible that they are also involved in the abuse. As such, it’s best to leave it up to the experts at Greenville Legal to ensure that your elderly relative gets the help they need. To find out more about how we can help you, contact us today to arrange a free consultation.
David Price is a Personal Injury, Civil Litigation, Collections, and Criminal Defense Attorney who practices in Greenville, SC. He graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law, and has been practicing law for 12 years. David Price believes in helping those who have been injured. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.