There are many nurses who are professional, reliable and treat your loved ones with proper care. But there are others in the profession who may not have the same level of professionalism or caregiving skills. Sometimes a facility may be understaffed, undertrained, or under supervised. Some nurse aides or nurses may also be excessively dismissive or aggressive. If you notice issues like these, that should be your first warning sign.
Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse are present in some nursing homes, as well as cases of neglect. Nurses or nurse’s aides may have a high level of contact with your loved one, and your loved one may not be able to communicate how they are being treated when they are alone. In some cases, they may have trouble identifying what is happening. If you believe that your loved one is being abused by someone in their nursing home care facility, you must provide a voice that they may not have.
Warning Signs For Each Type of Abuse
Physical abuse in nursing homes is a horrendous crime but will generally leave more evidence to help bring the abuser to justice. If a senior suffers a fracture or a broken bone without any explanation, there is a possibility that they have been abused. Beyond any breaks or fractures, if a senior has marks or bruises on their body that show up consistently in various places, it could mean physical abuse. While one bruise may not be indicative of a pattern of abuse, consistent bruising will be a sign of physical mistreatment. Unexplained injuries are a compelling sign that the resident is being physically abused.
Other signs that you can keep an eye out for include:
- Visible marks on wrists that could indicate restraints being used.
- Numerous instances of broken personal items.
- A caregiver who does not allow you to be alone with your loved one.
Emotional abuse in a nursing home can be just as devastating to your loved one as physical abuse and is much easier for the abuser to hide. Some signs of emotional abuse could be:
- Unusual changes in their behavior or sudden intensifying of dementia symptoms.
- Self-soothing behaviors such as mumbling, thumb sucking or rocking.
- Belittling or threatening behavior on the part of the caregiver, including being controlling, demeaning or verballing abusive.
Sometimes patients in nursing care facilities are sexually abused, as they are generally not physically capable of resisting against a much younger and physically fit person. Some signs of sexual abuse in the elderly could be:
- Unexplained STDs or infections.
- Bruising around the genitals or breasts.
- Vaginal or anal bleeding that may leave bloodstains on articles of clothing.
- Symptoms of post-traumatic stress such as hyper-alertness, emotional numbness, avoidance of activities or people once enjoyed, difficulty sleeping, being excessively irritable, and easily angered.
Residents may also experience nursing home financial abuse. You may notice unexplained withdrawals from your loved one’s bank account, sudden changes in their finances, or missing cash. Examples of financial abuse include:
- Cashing a resident’s income checks
- The forgery of a signature
- Outright theft of a resident’s personal possessions
- Using deception or manipulation to obtain a resident’s signature
- Unethical use of guardianship or the power of attorney
Neglecting patients in need of care is also considered nursing home abuse, as that means that the caregivers are not doing their job and that the care at the nursing home is substandard. Seniors may be unkempt and dirty when they are not receiving the care that they should and when staff are not assisting them with the activities of daily life. While elder neglect is a form of abuse, mistreatment is rarely limited to just one area. Some signs of nursing home negligence could be:
- Unsuitable living conditions such as a dirty or unsanitary environment, no heating or cooling in uncomfortable temperatures, or bug infestation problems.
- Not being moved enough in bed and developing bedsores.
- Dehydration or starvation signs, such as severe weight loss, very dark urine, very dry skin, sunken eyes, dizziness, or fainting.
- Not adequately dressed for the weather conditions, or offered the chance to go outside or socialize.
More Warning Signs of Elder Abuse
Usually, seniors will show other symptoms of abuse beyond just the bruising and scarring that are signs of mistreatment. Nursing home abuse also affects seniors in other ways that start to manifest themselves soon after abuse or mistreatment begins. This includes:
- A change in eating habits. Many will simply stop eating as a sign of the stress that they are going through, even if they cannot articulate what they are feeling.
- A change in sleeping habits. Elderly people either may not be able to sleep at night or simply may not want to get out of bed in the morning.
- A change in the senior’s mood. Some nursing home residents may stop speaking at all when there is abuse. Those with some form of dementia may grow increasingly agitated. Seniors may grow more distant from their families and their loved ones. They may experience psychological issues that require them to take antipsychotic medications when they never had a need for them in the past.
- A change in personal hygiene. Residents may stop paying attention to their hygiene when they are experiencing depression that stems from abuse.
Abusive Nursing Home Staff
One factor that needs to be watched closely is the staff that deals with the seniors at a nursing home. While some may maintain a pleasant facade when family members are around, others simply cannot hide their true nature if they are the type that will abuse the elderly. Staff members who are brusque or rough with nursing home residents may be more abusive when nobody is looking. Any controlling or menacing behavior on the part of staff members may be a sign that something is amiss. In addition, if a loved one seems visibly afraid when a certain staff member is present, that is an indication that the staff member is not treating the senior properly. If they are shaking or mumbling to themselves when that staff member appears, that is a strong sign of possible abuse.
While nursing homes have multiple layers of regulations that govern how they hire and supervise their employees, every so often, they will hire someone with a violent background. Alternatively, nursing homes may be understaffed since the facility’s owners wish to maximize their profits at the expense of resident care. When that happens, staff members may become agitated and take their frustrations out on the residents. Whatever the reason, nursing home abuse should never be condoned. Instead, these homes should be taken to task using the legal system.
Reporting Nursing Home Abuse
Nursing home abuse is sadly common for residents of these facilities. The exact extent of the problem is not always known since many instances of abuse go unreported. Many residents are an easy mark for abusive staff members since they may lack the cognitive ability to either know what is going on or to report the abuse.
Nursing homes have an obligation to investigate and report each allegation of abuse that is made. In fact, some regulations require them to report the allegations to their state regulator within two hours of it being made. Unfortunately, many nursing homes do not follow these rules. By the time the abuse is discovered, it is often too late to help the resident, who has already suffered a physical or emotional toll from the abuse.
Therefore, it is necessary for families and loved ones of the nursing home residents to be on the lookout for any warning signs that family members are being abused. When a loved one has low cognitive scores and cannot easily communicate, it is not always easy to do so. However, there are some signs that family members are suffering from abuse at the nursing home, whether it is physical, sexual or emotional mistreatment. Family members must continuously be vigilant to look for the smallest of signs.
Speak with Your Loved Ones About Possible Abuse
Families must always listen to their loved ones, this is the first and most important way to find out if there is nursing home abuse happening. While some seniors with some form of dementia may tend to make accusations not supported by reality because of their condition, every single thing that they say must be taken seriously, even if it seems far-fetched. While families do not need to call the police for every single report of potential misconduct that a loved one makes, there is a need to inquire further if the loved one says something about being mistreated by a particular staff member.
Do You Suspect Elder Abuse is Occurring?
If you suspect that there is abuse going on within the care facility, reaching out to the authorities outside of the facility and filing a complaint with the care facility should be your first steps to finding the truth.
If you find evidence that your loved one is being abused, document everything you can, such as photographing evidence, creating copies of financial statements, and writing down specific details. Make sure they are safe if you believe them to be in immediate danger, and don’t forget to ensure your own safety. Call 911, talk to nursing home administrators and file a complaint.
Lastly, speak with a personal injury attorney to help you pursue a civil lawsuit to recover compensation and ensure your loved one gets proper nursing care.
Learn the Warning Signs for Nursing Home Abuse in Maryland
Nursing home abuse is legally actionable. Nursing home residents who have suffered from elder abuse may be entitled to financial compensation. The lawyers at KBA Attorneys can help families of seniors who have been impacted by abuse and hold the facilities accountable.
Call us today to begin the process of filing a legal claim against a nursing home that has mistreated a loved one.
- Kurtis Hiatt. “9 Warning Signs of Bad Care”, U.S. News, https://health.usnews.com/health-news/best-nursing-homes/articles/2013/02/26/9-warning-signs-of-bad-care. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- David Landers. “Recognizing the Signs of Nursing Home Injury or Abuse”, Nolo, https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/recognizing-the-signs-nursing-home-injury-abuse.html. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- Medicare.gov. “Reporting & resolving nursing home problems”, U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, https://www.medicare.gov/what-medicare-covers/what-part-a-covers/reporting-resolving-nursing-home-problems. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- Aging and Long-Term Support Administration. “Types and Signs of Abuse”, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, https://www.dshs.wa.gov/altsa/home-and-community-services/types-and-signs-abuse. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- WebMD. “Elder Abuse: Know the Signs”, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/elder-abuse-signs#1. Accessed July 11, 2019.