Nursing Home Abuse: Types, Signs, and Tips for Prevention (Part 1 of 3)

When your loved one moves into a nursing home or assisted-living facility, you expect that staff members and administrators will do everything they can to make it a positive experience. Unfortunately, some staff members use their authority to intimidate and abuse residents. This three-part series covers the most common types of nursing abuse—physical, emotional, and financial—and offers tips for protecting your loved one.

Defining Physical Abuse

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) defines physical abuse as any use of physical force that causes pain or injuries. Actions that constitute physical abuse include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Force-feeding a resident
  • Pushing and shoving
  • Hitting a resident
  • Pinching, kicking, and slapping
  • Burning a resident with a lighter or lit cigarette
  • Sedating a resident unnecessarily
  • Physically restraining a resident without cause
  • Punishing residents in any way

Abuse Statistics Indicate a Widespread Problem

Although government agencies do their best to publish accurate statistics, many cases of nursing home abuse are not reported, skewing the numbers. Residents may hesitate to report the abuse because they fear retaliation from their abusers. Nursing home administrators are supposed to report cases of abuse, but some try to cover it up because they fear being sued or generating bad publicity for their facilities.

The National Ombudsman Reporting System (NORS), part of the Administration on Aging, collects reports from the people who act as advocates for nursing home residents and their families. According to a NORS report published in 2010, physical abuse is the most common type of abuse reported by residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, accounting for 29 percent of all complaints.

Neglect is Also a Concern for Nursing Home Residents

Some staff members do not hit or kick their patients, but they do neglect their physical and emotional needs. Neglect is a real concern for elderly residents who are unable to bathe, eat, and move around without assistance.

One of the most serious consequences of neglect is the development of pressure sores, which are damaged areas of the skin caused by sitting or lying in the same position for too long. If a patient remains in the same position for hours or days at a time, the constant pressure breaks down the skin, causing a pressure sore to form. Without treatment, pressure sores may extend deep into the tissue, causing damage to the muscles, bones, and tendons.

Watch for Signs of Physical Abuse and Neglect

Each time you visit your loved one, check for these potential signs of physical abuse:

  • Unexplained broken bones
  • Bruising, especially multiple bruises
  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Puncture marks in the skin
  • Dislocated joints
  • Sprains
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Marks around the wrists or ankles, which may indicate the use of physical restraints
  • Untreated injuries
  • Redness or ulceration of the skin

If you are concerned about neglect, watch for signs that staff members are not caring for your loved one properly. Unkempt hair, dirty clothes, and bad breath all indicate that your loved one is not getting enough help with personal hygiene activities. Unexplained weight loss may indicate that staff members are not giving your loved one enough to eat. If your loved one’s room is dirty or has signs of insect activity, staff members may be neglecting to provide a clean, safe living environment.

Family Members Can Help Prevent Abuse

You can’t be with your loved one every minute, but you can prevent physical abuse by taking a few simple actions. First, visit the nursing home regularly. Abusive staff members often target residents who rarely receive visitors, as it is less likely someone will discover the abuse.

Try to visit on different days and at different times so that staff members never know when to expect you. An abuser is less likely to target a resident who receives visitors on an unpredictable schedule.

Your Loved One Deserves Quality Care

If you notice any signs of physical abuse or neglect when you visit the nursing home, or your loved one reports abusive behavior, the abuser needs to be held accountable. Call Butler Tobin at (404) JUSTICE to discuss your concerns with an experienced attorney at no cost to you.

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