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Warnings Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

More than 1.5 million people live in nursing homes in the United States, according to official data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With so many of the nation’s elderly relying on nursing homes for care, the number of complaints about nursing home abuse and neglect continues to increase. Frustrated nursing home staff members often take their dissatisfaction out on the very people for whom they care. According to a 2020 study from the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 64 percent of nursing home staff members admitted to committing some form of abuse or neglect of their patients. Sometimes abuse comes at the hands of other nursing home residents.

If you have a loved one in a nursing home, it pays to recognize the signs of elder abuse and neglect. Since caregivers often serve as the perpetrators, it is up to family and friends to learn the warning signs and know how to respond if they suspect mistreatment.

Types of nursing home abuse and neglect

The National Center on Elder Abuse classifies elder abuse and neglect into six categories.

  • Abandonment involves leaving an elderly person with emotional or physical dependencies to fend for themselves. Nursing homes assume responsibility of caring for your loved ones. If they fail in their duty of care, it meets the legal definition of abuse or neglect.
  • Financial exploitation happens when a caregiver uses your loved one’s assets, bank accounts, or property for personal financial gain.  Nursing home residents suffering from memory impairment often fall victim to these kinds of elder abuse schemes.
  • Neglect happens when nursing home staff refuse to fulfill any of their caregiving duties. A failure to provide adequate access to food, medicine, and water, or refusing to assist with daily living essentials like personal hygiene and grooming, meets the legal definition for neglect.
  • Physical abuse involves any physical contact with your loved one that causes them bodily injury, impairment, or physical harm.
  • Psychological abuse is unfortunately quite common in nursing homes. Psychological abuse can include verbal intimidation and threats, as well as forcing social isolation and treating an elderly person like a child.
  • Sexual abuse means any non-consensual sexual contact. Unwanted touching, sexual assault and battery, and taking sexually explicit photographs of elderly residents in a nursing home falls into this category.
When personal hygiene changes occur, it can be a sign of nursing home abuse or neglect.

Watch out for these warning signs of nursing home abuse and neglect

Warning signs may vary from one person to the next. Some commonalities exist that can help you identify elder abuse and neglect. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommends watching for these warning signs.

Emotional abuse can be difficult to detect. Family and friends who notice a sudden change in their loved one’s behavior – including withdrawing from social activities – must ensure emotional abuse is not the cause. Another red flag is nursing homes or caregivers that try to isolate you from your loved one and refuse to provide access.

Financial exploitation presents itself in the form of unpaid bills, financial transactions that cannot be explained, and loved ones handing over financial access to their caregivers.

Neglect can be easy to detect if you know the signs. Soiled bedding and clothing, an unkempt living space, and signs that your loved one’s personal hygiene is deteriorating all point to nursing home staff abandoning their duty of care.

Physical abuse can be difficult to hide. Any sudden injuries or physical conditions that cannot be explained by nursing home staff should be suspect. Broken bones, bruises, burns, fractures, and sprained joints can all be indications of physical abuse.

Sexual abuse usually produces unexplained trauma on victims like bruising and swelling around the genitals. Your loved one also may exhibit unexplained behaviors and become withdrawn. A huge red flag is when an elderly person contracts a sexually transmitted disease or infection.

Reporting nursing home abuse or neglect

Strong reactions to suspected nursing home abuse or neglect are not uncommon. No one likes to think about their elderly loved one n the care of someone who is hurting them emotionally, physically, or sexually. Taking the right actions quickly can prevent further abuse and neglect.

  • Contact law enforcement. If you suspect your loved one is in immediate danger, call 911 to request immediate assistance. Nursing homes that refuse to allow police to perform a well-check on your loved ones can find themselves slapped with a search warrant to collect evidence of abuse and neglect that can be used in criminal cases or civil lawsuits.
  • Call adult protective services. It can be difficult to verify suspect abuse or neglect. Adult protective services can help. The New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department handles cases of suspected abuse, exploitation, and neglect. Call the main helpline at 866-654-3219 to request an advocate or inspector investigate.
  • Request a long-term care ombudsman. Ombudsman regularly visit nursing home patients on request. They are highly skilled at detecting nursing home abuse and neglect. Use this resource to find an ombudsman in your location.

How to prove nursing home abuse or neglect

Family members can pursue criminal and civil complaints against nursing homes suspected of abusing their loved ones. Contact an attorney the minute you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect to ensure your loved one’s rights are protected. You can rely on the expertise of Scott Atkinson to help prove your case. Call 505-944-1050 or request an appointment online to schedule your no-obligation consultation today.

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