Some nursing home residents may feel uncomfortable about reporting abuse by staff members or other caregivers. People who are suffering from mental health conditions may not be able to recognize and report the abuse. Meanwhile, facilities and staff members may try to cover it up to avoid criminal or civil liability. This makes it especially important for family members of a nursing home resident to stay alert to potential signs of abuse when visiting their loved one and talking with them.
Studies have reported that as many as one in 10 residents of American nursing homes suffer from some form of neglect or abuse each year, and this may be an underestimate. You should act promptly if you notice problems. You should remove your loved one from the facility as soon as possible, and you can contact law enforcement or Adult Protective Services, as well as a lawyer who can advise you on your rights.
Signs of Neglect
Understaffing may create a nursing home situation ripe for neglect.
If you find that your loved one is losing weight or suffering from hygiene problems, this may indicate that their daily needs are not being met. You should also pay attention to signs that their medication is not being administered properly or that they are suffering from bedsores or other health issues. Dirty bedding, malfunctioning utilities, and poorly maintained living spaces may indicate neglect by a nursing home. These issues often arise in understaffed facilities where employees are overworked, but this is not an excuse for neglecting residents.
Signs of Abuse
Nursing home residents who suddenly show signs of harm such as broken bones, burns, or cuts and bruises may have suffered from physical abuse. If your loved one’s clothing is torn, or if they have contracted a sexually transmitted infection, you may want to investigate the possibility of sexual abuse. You should make sure that staff members or the facility can provide a satisfactory account for any injuries or illnesses that your loved one develops after entering the nursing home. If they appear to have suffered a fall, for example, you should make sure that you receive a plausible explanation for why the fall happened. You should ask the nursing home what they plan to do to prevent future falls.
Residents may be unable or unwilling to directly communicate concerns about abuse or neglect. Loved ones should instead observe the resident for signs of abuse.
Sometimes the signs of abuse are not visible. Red flags may arise when a nursing home resident no longer wants to participate in the activities that they usually enjoy, or when they seem anxious or withdrawn around a certain staff member. If you notice a staff member behaving aggressively or dismissively toward a resident, even if it is not your loved one, this may suggest problems associated with that staff member. Residents who show signs of emotional abuse may have been subjected to overmedication (also known as chemical restraints) to control their behavior, or they may have been placed in isolation as punishment. These practices can cause lasting physical and emotional harm.
Signs of Financial Exploitation
Unfortunately, caregivers sometimes take advantage of the declining faculties of nursing home residents. They may deceive them into giving them control over their finances or giving them extravagant gifts. In other situations, they may exploit a resident’s medical condition to justify unnecessary expenditures on treatment, testing, or equipment, for which they may receive kickbacks from medical professionals. Caregivers may even submit bills to insurers for health care services that the elderly person never received. This is the crime of health care fraud, and you can report someone to law enforcement if they are taking advantage of your loved one’s frailties in this way. You should always be suspicious of sudden changes in your loved one’s treatment or personal finances.