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Know the Signs of Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes

April 16

Understand Signs of Elder Abuse: Physical, Financial, Emotional Harm

Written by Thomas Upchurch

The decision to move a loved one into a long-term care facility is never easy. When you choose a nursing home, you expect that your family member will benefit from the attention and medical treatment that comes with 24-hour care. Unfortunately, the standard of care isn’t always what you might have hoped.

Data the National Center on Elder Abuse collected from a variety of surveys and studies spanning nearly two decades show that:

  • 44% of nursing home residents interviewed said they had been physically abused
  • More than half of nursing home staff surveyed admitted to having mistreated older patients within the previous year
  • 17% of CNAs said they had pushed, grabbed, or shoved a resident
  • 23% of CNAs said they had insulted or sworn at a resident

Twenty-nine percent of nursing home abuse complaints logged in the National Ombudsman Reporting System (NORS) involved allegations of physical abuse. Seven percent involved sexual abuse, and 22% involved psychological abuse. In addition, resident-on-resident abuse is a growing problem.

Protecting your elderly loved ones from this type of abuse requires vigilance. The first step is to educate yourself about the signs of elder abuse.

Visiting a Nursing Home

When you visit a nursing home, whether you are shopping around for the best option for your loved one or are visiting a family member who is already in a long-term care facility, observe your surroundings carefully. For example:

  • Observe the condition of the residents you see, including cleanliness and apparent health and well-being
  • Watch how staff interacts with residents and how residents respond—a staff member may be on “good behavior” when you’re watching, but the resident’s response may be telling
  • Consider environmental conditions, such as temperature, odor, and cleanliness

Nursing Home Abuse Warning Signs

Every situation is different, and each individual may respond differently to abuse. So, you should not hesitate to follow up on anything that seems suspicious or out of the ordinary to you. Some of the most common signals of physical and psychological abuse in nursing homes include:

  • Unexplained bruises: While more serious injuries will likely trigger questions from the resident’s family, older people often bruise easily, so bruising may not set off alarm bells. However, bruises may be a sign that your loved one is being handled roughly.
  • Withdrawal or depression: Elders who are suffering abuse often begin to “shut down,” becoming despondent and less responsive than usual. They may also be reluctant to talk openly.
  • Poor hygiene and signs of poor nutrition: Many elderly people require assistance with personal hygiene. If your loved one’s hygiene is lacking, it may be a sign of neglect, or even abusive behavior
  • Mental deterioration: Though elderly people often experience some mental decline, behavioral changes associated with abuse may appear similar to dementia. If you observe a cognitive decline that is not explained by a medical diagnosis, look further.
  • Marks indicating restraint: While some elderly and disabled residents must sometimes be restrained for their own protection, restraint may also be used for staff convenience or as punishment.
  • STDs or genital infections: When a nursing home resident has unexplained signs of sexually transmitted disease, physical injury to the genital area, or other related injury or infection, investigate the cause. The resident could be suffering abuse by a staff member or other resident.

Learn More about Nursing Home Abuse

The elderly are vulnerable, particularly when they are dependent on others for food, access to medical care, and other day-to-day needs. If you suspect that your loved one has been a victim of elder abuse, or just want to educate yourself to protect your loved one, learn more about how you can fight back against elder abuse.