Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Home Abuse
(Note : Thank you to Holly Brooks from Levin & Perconti for sharing the article with us at Clearwater Care)
Nursing home abuse is a horrifying reality happening in our communities and affecting our senior citizens. When we place our elder loved ones in a nursing home, we expect staff members to treat them with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand what nursing home abuse is, the different types of abuse, signs of abuse, and how to prevent it.
What is Nursing Home Abuse?
The Administration on Aging, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defines elder abuse as “any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.”
A long-term study showed that elder abuse victims are twice as likely to die prematurely than individuals who have not suffered from elder abuse. Nursing home abuse, which refers to elder abuse in a nursing home, can lead to serious physical injuries, emotional harm, and even death.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
Physical neglect includes anything that deprives residents of their primary needs for survival and dignity, including food, warmth, shelter, and a sanitary environment. Physical abuse in nursing homes happens whenever a resident suffers bodily harm, pain, or impairment because of mistreatment or neglect. Physical abuse can consist of:
- Active abuse (hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, etc.)
- Physical neglect
- The misuse of restraints
In nursing homes, staff members are only supposed to use restraints for medical reasons and for a short time. Keeping restraints on patients for long periods can reduce muscle tone and bone mass and cause muscle disorders and other serious injuries.
Nursing home caregivers, visiting family members, and other residents are the primary abusers in nursing homes. Studies show that physical abuse is often committed as a form of retaliation by nursing home staff against physically aggressive patients acting out often due to dementia and other conditions resulting in mental decline.
Emotional abuse generally refers to any non-physical abuse, including:
Emotional abuse can also include depriving a patient of their dignity, for example, by leaving them in soiled clothes or refusing to allow them to make choices over daily decisions. According to a World Health Organization study from 2020, emotional abuse is the most common type of elder abuse. Almost a third of all nursing home employees have admitted to emotionally abusing a patient.
Neglect refers to a caretaker’s failure to provide food, shelter, medical care, or protection. General and medical neglect can lead to:
Neglect is different from abuse in that it usually refers to an unintentional act. An example of neglect is if a nursing home resident wanders from the premises and dies from hypothermia while lost outside. Another example is when a nursing home employee fails to change a resident’s position in bed and, as a result, the resident develops bedsores.
Sexual abuse is any non-consensual sexual contact. Unfortunately, this type of abuse is a prevalent form of elder abuse. Common signs of sexual abuse include bruises around the breasts or genital areas and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases.
Financial exploitation refers to the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds or property. Older people, particularly those with dementia or cognitive decline, are particularly susceptible to financial fraud, and criminals know this.
In July 2021, a nursing home employee in Pennsylvania was convicted of stealing more than $500,000 from residents of a nursing home. The man stole checks from the residents and then forged their signatures and cashed them at various banks.
Signs that Someone May Be Abusing Your Elderly Loved One
Although nursing home abuse is sometimes difficult to detect, there are some specific warning signs you can look out for when visiting with your elderly loved one. Signs of nursing home abuse include:
- Broken bones
- Tears around the genital areas
- Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
- Changes to financial accounts, including unusual and unexplained withdrawals of money
- Notable changes to the person’s will or other financial documents
- Fraudulent signatures on financial documents
- Unpaid bills
- Withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy
- Unusual changes in sleep or behavior
- Increased or unreasonable fear or anxiety
- The sudden onset of depression
- Untreated bedsores
- Poor hygiene
- Unexplained weight loss
- Lack of medical aids, such as glasses, hearing aids, dentures, medications, or walkers
Any of these tell-tale signs can indicate that someone may be abusing your loved one. Know these signs to better protect your family member and stop the abuse that may be happening.
Therefore, it’s crucial to conduct your own investigation of the nursing home where your loved one is living. You should visit the home often and get to know your loved one’s primary caregivers personally. Ask lots of questions and actively look for signs of abuse.
How to Prevent Nursing Home Abuse
You can take several steps to help prevent nursing home abuse. First, know the signs. Next, check in regularly with your loved one. Third, raise any concerns with staff and authorities. Finally, be proactive in researching the nursing home and looking for any red flags.
Taking these measures could ultimately save your loved one’s life.