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Recognizing the Signs of Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect

When you or somebody you care about moves to a nursing home, it’s natural to be worried about their well-being. One of the best ways to prevent nursing home abuse - or at the very least, catch it early on - is to know how to recognize its warning signs. In this guide, we discuss some of the signs that you can use to help identify instances of nursing home abuse.

1. Know What Nursing Home Abuse Is

Nursing home abuse may be defined as the intentional or unintentional harm or mistreatment of a nursing home resident by a staff member. Whether the harm is intentional or not, nursing home abuse is a grave issue that can lead to trauma, health issues, and even death. 

2. Know How Common Nursing Home Abuse Is

With two and a half million American adults living in assisted living facilities such as nursing homes, the incidence of nursing home abuse is sadly quite high. As older or disabled adults, nursing home residents are a highly vulnerable population. 

At the same time, nursing homes commonly face issues such as burnout, improper training, and understaffing, all of which can lead to neglect and abuse. That is why a shockingly high two-thirds of nursing home staff members have admitted to abusing residents.

This does not mean that nursing homes are inherently dangerous places, but it does point to the importance of raising awareness about nursing home abuse. As a nursing home resident or loved one, it’s crucial to be vigilant about nursing home abuse and its warning signs in order to protect yourself or those you care about. 

3. Know the Types of Nursing Home Abuse

There are several types of nursing home abuse including:

  • Physical abuse - Physical abuse refers to a nursing home staff member causing bodily harm or injury to a resident, including kicking, punching, restraining, and tripping
  • Emotional abuse - Emotional abuse is a category encompassing verbal and psychological abuse, including threatening, insulting, humiliating, or degrading
  • Neglect - Nursing home neglect refers to a failure to provide the proper care a resident needs, including medication mistakes, poor hygiene maintenance, and insufficient feeding
  • Sexual abuse - Sexual abuse is any type of undesired sexual contact, advances, or conduct, as well as any form of sexual contact with a nursing home patient who is unable to give consent because of their mental state
  • Financial abuse - Financial abuse is defined as stealing from or manipulating a nursing home resident in order to get money from them, including identity theft, misuse of conservatorship, guardianship, or power of attorney, and forging signatures

4. Know the Warning Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

One of the most challenging elements of nursing home abuse is that sometimes it can be so difficult to identify, especially if the victim suffers from dementia or some other form of cognitive impairment that makes it difficult for them to communicate clearly. That is why it’s so crucial to be aware of all of the warning signs of the different types of nursing home abuse and to regularly check for them in your loved ones.

Some warning signs of physical abuse may include:

  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Scratches
  • Broken bones
  • Bedsores and pressure ulcers
  • Black eyes
  • Unexplained falls
  • Burns and scalds

Warning signs of emotional abuse include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Social withdrawal
  • Negative changes in mood
  • Behavioral changes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
  • PTSD
  • Fearfulness
  • Agitation
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Extreme dislike of a particular caregiver

Warning signs of neglect include:

  • Substantial losses in weight
  • Unexplained hair loss
  • Dirty bedding and clothing
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Undiagnosed and untreated illnesses
  • Bedsores
  • Secondary infections and diseases
  • Missed medication and doses
  • Poor hygiene

Warning signs of sexual abuse include:

  • Bruises
  • Scratches
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Difficulty sitting and walking
  • Bruising and skin irritation around the groin
  • Urinary tract infections 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder 
  • Bloody, stained, or ripped underclothing
  • Unexplained pelvic pain or bleeding

Warning signs of financial abuse include:

  • Unexplained bank withdrawals
  • Changes to a resident’s will or power of attorney
  • Receipt of letters from collection agencies
  • Missing belongings or property
  • Significant changes in spending habits
  • Forgeries on legal documents and checks
  • Higher than usual credit card balances

Remember, it’s better to be extra cautious than to potentially miss the signs of something terrible. When in doubt, do not hesitate to ask questions and investigate. 

Knowledge Is Power: Take Action

If you believe that you have spotted a warning sign of nursing home abuse or neglect, it is important to contact the relevant authorities immediately. In addition to removing the victim from the dangerous situation and firing the guilty staff member, authorities will investigate the nursing home and potentially give it a citation so that the incident will be on the record.

Additionally, know that you have the option to pursue justice in the form of compensation for pain and suffering, reimbursement for medical expenses, and punitive damages. It is also highly recommended that you consult with an attorney with experience pursuing nursing home abuse claims. Through AAL’s directory, you can find many skilled attorneys with extensive experience in pursuing such claims.

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