The abuse, neglect, and willful mistreatment of elderly people in nursing homes is a continuing problem, and may get worse as the demands on our system of elder care increase.
Mistreatment and neglect causes needless suffering in this vulnerable population. Patient fatalities due to neglect often go unreported. Physicians frequently list a general cause of death like “heart failure” on the death certificates of nursing home residents. In actuality, the root cause of death may be the untreated malnutrition, dehydration, or systemic infections from skin sores that lead to the heart failure.
As our country’s population ages, the demand for elder care is growing, putting additional pressure on an already over-stressed system.
If you suspect a loved one is being abused or neglected in a nursing home, please contact us right away.
Simply put, it is against the law for any person to neglect or abuse a resident of a nursing home. You should formally document any suspected abuse or neglect. The details of the injuries, date and time, and any witnesses should all be put in writing.
The law limits the amount of time after a patient incurs an injury to file suit, so act now.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
According to the National Organization for Victim Assistance, several types of abuse may occur in nursing homes.
- Caregiver Neglect : Failure to give appropriate care in a nursing home, such as bathing and proper positioning; failure to administer prescribed medications and treatments; failure to provide needed assistance with daily activities, such as eating, drinking, toileting, and walking; failure to maintain a safe patient environment.
- Physical Abuse : Infliction of pain or injury by hitting, kicking, inappropriate use of physical or chemical restraints, or any other aggressive behavior directed at the elderly patient.
- Emotional Abuse : Verbal assault, threats, humiliation, intimidation, isolating and/or ignoring the elderly patient.
- Sexual Abuse : Any form of inappropriate, non-consensual sexual contact.
- Financial Abuse or Exploitation : Misappropriation of the patient’s money or personal possessions, failure to account for patient funds, denying the elderly patient access to his or her personal funds, forgery.
Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
A major roadblock in combating nursing home abuse is the fact that incidents are infrequently reported. Some studies suggest that for every reported case of abuse or neglect, as many as four cases go unreported, for a variety of reasons.
A patient may be physically unable or too intimidated to report the abuse. Visitors and staff may question a complaining patient’s mental condition. Family members who suspect abuse may be reluctant to report it, fearing retaliation by staff. And visible signs, such as bruising, may be ignored as accidental.
Friends and families of patients in nursing homes must learn to recognize the signs of abuse. Be alert for any change in behavior, such as sudden withdrawal or agitation. If you observe any of the following characteristics, they should not be ignored. Any suspicious sign warrants further investigation.
Signs of possible elderly abuse may include:
- Frequent unexplained crying
- Sudden behavior changes
- Unexplained fear or suspicion of a particular caregiver or other person(s) in the home.
- Bruises, black eyes, welts, lacerations, and rope marks
- Bone fractures, broken bones, and skull fractures
- Open wounds, cuts, punctures, untreated injuries, and injuries in various stages of healing
- Broken eyeglasses
- Signs of being inappropriately restrained
- Laboratory findings of inappropriate medication
- A caregiver’s refusal to allow you to see the patient alone
- Bruises around the breasts or genital area
- Unexplained venereal disease, or vaginal or anal bleeding
- Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
- Emotional upset or agitation
- Extreme withdrawal and non-communication or non-responsiveness
Signs of nursing home neglect may include
- Dehydration, malnutrition, untreated bedsores, and poor personal hygiene
- Unattended or untreated health problems
- Hazardous or unsafe living conditions (e.g., improper wiring, no heat or no running water)
- Unsanitary or unclean living conditions (e.g., dirt, soiled bedding, fecal/urine smell, inadequate clothing)
Financial or Material Exploitation
- Unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions
- Provision of unnecessary services
- Discovery of patient’s signature forged for financial transactions
Who Is at Risk For Nursing Home Abuse?
Patient neglect and abuse in nursing homes is widespread, and no patient is immune. However, the risk of mistreatment is greater when certain factors are present. Such factors include:
Questionable or Negative Nursing Home Facility Characteristics
Numerous studies have demonstrated that poor staffing and institutional indifference are breeding grounds for nursing home abuse.
Greater risk is present in facilities that have:
- no abuse prevention policy
- inadequate staff training
- limited staff screening
- high patient-to-staff ratios
- high staff turnover
- a history of deficiencies or complaints
- an unsafe physical environment.
The Condition of the Elderly Patient
Studies have shown that some elderly residents of nursing homes are more vulnerable to abuse than others. Patients with dementia-associated behavior problems and those who are highly dependent on others for their basic daily needs are at greater risk, as are those who are more socially isolated. The more limited the patient’s communication ability, the easier it is for abuse to go unnoticed or unreported.
Social Relationships of the Patient
The quality of a resident’s relationships with family and caregivers is a factor in determining their risk for nursing home abuse. Residents who rarely receive outside visitors may be more vulnerable, since there is no one to regularly check on their care.
Family watchfulness may be a deterrent to nursing home abuse. However in some situations, overly zealous family members may actually impede the delivery of care, creating conflicts with staff that can increase the likelihood of abuse.
The risk of nursing home abuse may also rise if the elderly patient’s relationships with staff include past conflicts, or if the patient has not developed personal relationships with staff or other residents.
If you think a loved one is a victim of nursing home abuse, contact LegalDirect.com immediately for a free and immediate case evaluation.