Preventing nursing home negligence

On behalf of Cynthia Berger at Berger and Green

There are many different signs of elder abuse those who have a loved one living in a nursing home should watch out for.

Reports of nursing home residents being abused and neglected by their caregivers have grown increasingly common in recent years. However, as prevalent as the problem already appears to be, it may only be the tip of the iceberg; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that for every case of nursing home abuse that is reported or detected, 23 more cases remain hidden.

For anyone with a loved one living in a long-term care facility, these troubling statistics underscore the importance of being alert to the potential warning signs that a loved one may be suffering from physical, sexual or emotional abuse by a caregiver.

Physical abuse

As defined by the National Center on Elder Abuse, physical abuse involves the use of force to inflict physical pain, impairment or bodily injury on another person. For example, nursing home residents who are beaten, pushed, shoved, shaken, kicked or burned are victims of physical abuse. Nursing home residents who are physically abused may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Black eyes, abrasions and bruises
  • Broken bones, bone fractures and skull fractures
  • Internal injuries and bleeding as well as sprains and dislocations
  • Laboratory findings that suggest prescribed medications are not being administered in the appropriate doses

It is not uncommon for bruises and other signs of physical abuse to be falsely attributed to falls or other accidents, so those explanations should not always be taken at face value when a loved one has been injured in a care facility. Furthermore, fall-related injuries can be a sign of neglect or negligence even if the resident is not being actively abused. Nursing home residents who are suffering from physical abuse may also have broken eyeglasses or may exhibit sudden changes in their mood or behavior.

Sexual abuse

Nursing home sexual abuse can include any non-consensual sexual contact with an elderly person, whether by staff or other residents. Examples include but are not limited to rape, sodomy, sexually explicit photographing and all forms of sexual assault and battery.

People who experience sexual abuse while living in a nursing home may develop bruises around their genital areas or breasts and may have torn, bloody or stained underclothing. They may also develop symptoms of infections or sexually transmitted diseases that cannot be explained and may experience bleeding or irritation of the genital or anal areas. A nursing home resident who is being sexually abused may exhibit changes in mood or personality, or may have an unexplained change of attitude toward a particular staff member.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse occurs when a caregiver inflicts pain, anguish or distress through either verbal or nonverbal actions on an elderly person. For example, elderly people who are intimidated, humiliated or harassed by their caregivers are emotionally abused. Nursing home residents who are emotionally abused may become easily upset or agitated and become non-communicative, non-responsive or extremely withdrawn. They may also exhibit behaviors usually attributed to dementia, such as biting, rocking or sucking.

Regardless of the type of abuse involved, nursing home residents who are abused by their caregivers can experience severe psychological and physical consequences. People who wish to assert their legal rights or take steps to protect a loved on in the event of an abusive situation should reach out to an attorney in their area for assistance.