Placing loved ones in the care of strangers is difficult and, sometimes, frightening. If family members need more support than you can give, nursing homes are often your only option. You expect that nursing homes hire licensed, professional caregivers, so you can trust they provide the best possible care. This is not always the case. Family members need guidance and support when loved ones experience nursing home mistreatment. To prevent nursing home abuse, you need to know the signs.
What is Nursing Home Abuse
The CDC defines abuse as intentional acts by caregivers that harm older adults. Older adults refer to anyone over the age of 60.
Nursing home abuse can take the following forms.
Use of physical force that causes illness, injury, pain, or death. A caregiver strikes or pushes the older person. Giving too much or too little medication can also be a form of physical abuse.
Physical abuse can leave your loved ones with long-term or permanent injuries. These injuries can lead to disability or premature death.
Forced sexual contact includes touching and non-touching actions. The caregiver sexually touches the resident’s genitals. Non-touching actions include things like forcing someone to watch pornography or another’s genitals.
This type of abuse can cause physical or psychological trauma. The resident can also contract a sexually transmitted disease.
This can happen when a staff member inflicts fear, distress, or anguish using verbal or nonverbal gestures. Threatening an older person is one form of emotional abuse. Forcing the patient to perform humiliating acts in order to receive care is another.
This type of abuse can lead to declines in mental health.
The caregiver does not protect the resident from harm. The caregiver fails to meet the basic needs of the resident. The caregiver does not feed, bathe, or provide medications.
Neglect is not a simple mistake. It is a pattern of ignoring the resident’s needs. Neglect can lead to injuries or premature death.
Challenges in Identifying Abuse
The National Center on Elder Abuse reports 1 in 3 nursing homes receive abuse citations. The actual number of abuse incidents is difficult to obtain. The difficulty is due to many reasons.
Professionals who work with the elderly may lack the skills to identify abuse.
Your family member may be afraid to report abuse. Caregivers may threaten the injured person with more abuse.
Disabilities or health conditions may prevent a loved one from describing the abuse.
Family members with dementia are often unable to report abuse. They may become confused or may not be believed.
Residents often abuse older or weaker residents. Several studies suggest this form of abuse is more common than abuse by staff.
Some injuries may be accidental. Other symptoms are part of the aging process. Contact experienced professionals if you have doubts.
Beltz & Beltz’s personal injury lawyers are experienced in identifying nursing home abuse.
What are the Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
As your loved ones’ age, they are often unable to prevent abuse. Specific signs may indicate the possibility of abuse. Learning these signs can be important to help protect your family member.
Abuse can be at the hands of caregivers or other nursing home residents. You need to get to know the nursing home staff and especially the persons who are part of your family member’s daily routines.
Abuse is often suspected if there are changes in your loved ones’ personality. Other signs of abuse can include the tension between your family members and caregivers.
The following lists the most common types of abuse. This information describes what to look for if you suspect abuse.
Physical abuse is not always obvious. Look for the following signs:
- Unexplained injuries such as broken bones. These can occur from dropping or beating the resident.
- Bruises or scars on the body from grabbing or hitting the resident with an object. Wrists, ankles, and upper arms are common places for such injuries. If there was a need to grab a resident that resulted in injury, the incident should be documented. Ask about incident reports.
- If you notice that medications are not being given on a regular basis, caregivers may be stealing drugs or trying to harm the resident. Reactions by the resident due to lack of proper medication can be another indication medication is not being given as ordered.
- Chafing on the wrist can indicate the use of restraints. Restraints in nursing homes can only be used with written orders from a physician. The order must specify when and how long the caregiver applies the restraints.
- Look for instances of broken or missing eyeglasses and other possessions. Striking the resident across the face can be one cause of broken eyeglasses. Look for cuts in the area around the eyes.
- The caregiver refuses to leave you alone with your family member. The resident may be nervous in your presence. The caregiver uses this behavior as an excuse to remain.
Question unusual marks or injuries each time you visit. Use this list to determine if the injury is suspicious.
Emotional/Psychological abuse symptoms can be similar to symptoms one sees with aging. Signs of emotional/psychological abuse can include the following:
- Your loved one suddenly begins displaying signs of dementia. They may begin to do repetitive actions, such as:
- Thumb sucking
- You witness the caregiver being demeaning or threatening to the resident.
- The resident begins to withdraw from social activities. Emotional abuse can lead to loss of self-confidence and anxiety.
- Emotional abuse may cause the resident to fear to be alone. They may identify specific caregivers they are particularly afraid to be alone with.
- Refusal to take medication is often a sign of emotional abuse.
Emotional/psychological abuse is more difficult to identify than physical abuse. If you suspect abuse, contact a qualified healthcare provider to examine your family member.
Signs of sexual abuse can include the following, especially when there is no reasonable medical explanation for the symptoms:
- The resident develops a sexually transmitted infection.
- Bruising appears in the area of the genitals or breasts.
- You find bloody or torn undergarments.
- The resident is bleeding from the vagina or anus.
- Sudden angry outbursts, social isolation, and withdrawal can be signs of sexual abuse.
The resident may feel uncomfortable discussing sexual abuse. If you suspect abuse, contact the hospital administrator or your county’s ombudsman.
Neglect is a pattern of behavior. Listed below are some of the signs of neglect:
- Finding the resident left alone at public locations.
- Lack of bathing and grooming of the resident. This could include leaving the resident in soiled diapers.
- You find dirty bedding, bugs, and unclean facilities on a consistent basis.
- Finding bedsores may indicate the residents’ position is rarely changed.
- The resident has unexplained weight loss or signs of dehydration. This can occur from a lack of feeding and providing liquids.
- Frequent falls or infections which are not reported to the physician or family.
- The nursing staff fails to care for the resident’s medical needs. There is no follow up to injuries and changes in medication.
Neglect is a passive form of abuse. Notice whether other residents are neglected or only your loved one. Remove your family member from a residence that is neglectful.
Medicare fraud takes advantage of the resident’s financial resources. Look for the following to detect Medicare fraud:
- Increase or decrease in regular medication
- Duplicate bills
- Staff training is poor
- Not enough staff for the number of residents
- Did you know that the state of Florida requires a minimum of one certified nursing assistant for every 20 residents. One nurse is assigned for every 40 residents
Medicare fraud is a serious crime that impacts everyone. Suspected fraud should be reported immediately.
How to Prevent Nursing Home Abuse
Visit regularly and at different times of the day. This practice helps ensure your family member receives continual care.
Observe your family member for signs of abuse. Use the signs described above or reach out for help.
When selecting a nursing home for your loved one, be aware of the following red flags.
- Unusually high turnover in staff.
- Nursing home policies do not support abuse reduction.
- Loud and chaotic facility. Noisy and chaotic environments can increase agitation in residents.
- Nursing staff disrespectful to residents. Talk more with each other than residents.
- The nursing staff seems overworked and stressed.
- The administrator is rarely available. This is who you will discuss your concerns with. You should be able to contact them within a reasonable timeframe.
- It provides no choices. Choices can be food, activities, or clothing. Nursing home residents have little autonomy and having choices can offer a sense of control.
- Visiting hours are restrictive. You should be able to visit your family through most hours of the day and early evening. Varied visits will also enable you to observe staff routines at various times.
- Unsafe neighborhood. Residents need to go out of doors when possible. If there are no safe outdoor spaces this is difficult.
Research potential nursing homes through public records available for each state. Search for citations and outcomes.
What to do if Your Loved One is Abused
Nursing homes should be a place of safety for our loved ones at their most fragile. Far too often this is untrue.
If the unthinkable happens, you should be prepared to take action immediately.
Your first step is to ensure the safety of your family member. Do this by removing them from an abusive situation.
Take care of their immediate needs. If necessary, call 911 and request a professional healthcare provider exam for abuse.
Report the abuse. You can contact the police or go through state agencies set up to protect older adults from abuse.
The expenses you will incur for medical bills, therapy, and relocation can be significant. To recover the compensation, you may need to consult an attorney.
When choosing an attorney, you need to ensure they can identify nursing home abuse and are familiar with the state statutes, administrative codes and federal guidelines governing nursing homes. The lawyers at Beltz & Beltz are familiar with nursing home standards.
The attorneys at Beltz & Beltz specialize in nursing home abuse situations. They have extensive experience representing injured nursing home residents.
Visit the Beltz & Beltz website for more information on their services. Learn how they can help your family through this difficult time.