10 Biggest Signs of Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect

When our loved ones live in long-term care environments, we trust that they are safe and being well taken care of. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and nursing home abuse, whether by direct actions or neglect, is a serious issue. If you suspect that your elderly loved ones may be suffering from such abuse, you should know the signs.

Elder abuse is the incidence or the ongoing occurrence of any action that causes physical, emotional, or material harm to an older person. Abusive acts fall under a broad set of definitions, ranging from physical violence to out-and-out neglect, with many shades of grey in between. According to the  World Health Organization (WHO), the problem of elder abuse is highest in nursing homes and other institutional settings.

10 Biggest Signs of Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect

Many elderly people are afraid or ashamed to talk about the abuse they’ve endured by staff or strangers in a nursing home facility. Others are suffering from cognitive declines such as dementia and have imperfect awareness or memory of the abuse. Some elderly people who are victims of dangerous neglect don’t fully understand that they’re being neglected.

The families and friends of elderly loved ones should be highly sensitive to any changes in behavior, physicality, or emotional outlook that could be signs of nursing home abuse or neglect. Some of the most telling indicators include:

1) Evidence of Physical Violence

Injuries or bruises that can’t be convincingly explained by the nursing home resident should be met with concern. Rough handling by nursing home staff is not uncommon and falls under the heading of abuse. More than one bruise or injury over the course of weeks are a clear red flag.

2) Physical Harm Through Neglect

Falls are the leading cause of injuries in seniors. While there are many reasons for senior falls, many of these falls can be prevented through patient monitoring. Did your loved one fall because they were an undiagnosed fall risk? Were they given a mobility assessment by the staff?

3) Loss or Destruction of Personal Property

Why are mom or dad’s eyeglasses broken? What happened to the watch or necklace that they’ve always worn? Small personal items can be disproportionately meaningful to elders in nursing homes. Theft of personal property is unfortunately a common form of nursing home abuse.

4) Signs of Emotional Abuse

Hostile or derisive behavior toward the nursing home resident is considered abuse. When elderly loved ones start seeming fearful of nursing home staff, or begin acting out inappropriately for no apparent reason, it’s time to have a talk with them about why this is happening.

5) Signs of Financial Abuse

Many elders are swindled out of money while they live in a nursing home. Thievery can take place by hidden action or extortion, or phone and internet scams, which elderly people are particularly vulnerable to. Families should monitor purchases and scrutinize bank and credit card statements.  

6) Possible Sexual Abuse

This type of abuse is unfortunately not uncommon, but according to the WHO, it is the most under-reported form of nursing home abuse. Abuse includes humiliations through nudity or unwanted touching. When seniors become suddenly withdrawn and uncommunicative, be extra concerned.

7) Signs of Loneliness

Loneliness is especially toxic for the elderly, even in nursing home settings, and especially during the pandemic. Researchers believe that loneliness in seniors can be as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Potential signs of neglect are new instances of listlessness and loss of appetite.

8) Signs of Medical Neglect

Most nursing home residents are living with chronic health conditions that are managed with medications. Dizziness, poor sleep and negative changes in dietary or toilet patterns can be caused by carelessly prescribed or administered medications, or unwanted interactions between them.

9) Signs of Familiar Abuse

Strange as it may sound, much abuse comes at the hands of family members and “friends” visiting or calling the elder in the nursing home. According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, spouses and other life partners account for nearly 60% of elder abuse. All family members should be aware of these dynamics.

10) Signs of Legal Abuse

As elders begin to decline in their ability, many of them assign legal power of attorney (POA) to individuals that they trust. Unfortunately, there are many cases where that trust has been coerced by either a family or a stranger and is being misused. All family members must be aware of and confident in any POA that their elderly loved one has signed.    

How Common Is This Abuse?

The statistics are, unfortunately shocking: elder abuse is not at all uncommon. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 10% of Americans 65 years and older have been exposed to it. Considering that there were 54 million seniors as of 2019 and that 10,000 American Baby Boomers turn 65 every day, this translates into more than 5 million cases of elder abuse each year. Again, institutional care is considered a high-risk environment for such abuse.

These statistics don’t even tell the entire story. Beyond the damage of the abuse itself, whether through action or neglect, is the sad fact that abuse goes unreported. The WHO estimates that just 1 out of 24 elder abuse cases gets reported. A family services study undertaken at a state-wide level in New York came up with similar findings. Unfortunately, it is up to family members and loved ones to help discover and correct elder abuse, especially in nursing homes.

What Can I Do About It?

The thought of our loved ones suffering from abuse or neglect is a painful realization that should not be undertaken lightly. However, when confronting a potential case of elder abuse there are three main directions that the family will want to pursue:

Accept the Possibility

The first step is a process of discovery, which naturally can be an extremely sensitive topic for the elder. Kindness and patience by family members is most critical here. In addition to natural feelings of trauma and shame, elders with cognitive decline are particularly vulnerable to abuse and need special attention to confront it.

Be Part of the Solution

Too much elder abuse goes unreported. For every imaginable reason, this must stop. If you have reason to believe that your loved one may have been traumatized or injured in this way, it should be reported at once to the proper authority. In a nursing home setting, this means management, not care workers.

Have an Experienced Legal Partner

The nursing home facility is generally responsible for the safety and care of its residents. The specifics of these responsibilities and whether they have been lived up to is a topic for experienced experts. If you believe your loved one has suffered abuse or neglect in their nursing home, contact Potts Law Firm, with offices in Kansas City, KS and Springfield, MO, today. We will help you protect your loved ones and your rights.