5 Warning Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing home abuse is tragically occurring with increasing frequency in many long-term care facilities across the United States. In a briefing concerning Elder Abuse, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that abuse in long-term care facilities is likely to increase exponentially as a result of population aging. Additionally, the same briefing reported that elder abuse has increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In light of the growing frequency of nursing home abuse, it is important for friends and family members with loved ones in long-term care facilities to know the signs of abuse. To help protect your loved one from becoming a victim, here is an overview of nursing home abuse and the signs to be on the lookout for.

What is Nursing Home Abuse?

Even though nursing home abuse is increasingly common, it may not always manifest in precisely the same way. There are a variety of caregiving malpractices that can result in physical or emotional harm. The first step in preventing abuse is understanding the different forms it can take. In a fact sheet aimed at preventing elder abuse, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified several different types of elder abuse.

Physical. Physical abuse occurs when an attendant or nursing-home caregiver inflicts bodily injury. These injuries can result in pain or physical impairment, reduced mobility, and general discomfort. Another form of physical abuse to be aware of is sexual abuse. Sexual abuse or sexual harassment involves any form of unwanted sexual contact with another adult.

Emotional. Emotional abuse can result from a variety of verbal and non-verbal behaviors. If a caregiver uses disrespectful, hostile, or humiliating language, it can result in mental anguish.

Neglect. Neglect involves a failure to meet a person’s needs. Elderly residents in nursing homes require assistance with a variety of activities, including eating, drinking, and changing. If caregivers neglect to provide these essential services, it can result in physical and emotional harm.

Financial. Financial abuse entails the improper use of an older adult’s money or belongings. In a nursing home or long-term care facility, this behavior may take the form of stealing or unethical billing practices.

Nursing Home Abuse Statistics

In a report that outlined adverse events in skilled nursing home facilities, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that more than 20% of all Medicare recipients who spent more than 35 days in a long-term care facility experienced at least one adverse event during their stay. Nearly 80% of all adverse events documented by the HHS in the same report resulted in a transfer to another facility or hospitalization.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), roughly 1 in 6 people over the age of 60 experienced some form of elder abuse in a community setting in 2020. The reports from these agencies indicate that nursing home abuse is more common than many people realize. Because of this, it is imperative to understand the signs of potential abuse.

What are the Signs of Nursing Home Abuse?

Physical Injuries. Physical injuries—such as bruises, cuts, broken bones, or swelling—may indicate that nursing home abuse is taking place. If you have a loved one in a long-term care facility who has sustained an injury, it’s essential to follow up with them about how it happened. Physical injuries are particularly concerning if they seem to be occurring with any degree of frequency.

A Change in Behavior or Emotional Wellbeing. Not all nursing home abuse is physical in nature. Some of the most pernicious abuse comes in the form of emotional or verbal abuse. If your parent, friend, or relative in a nursing home becomes emotionally withdrawn, depressed, or exhibits fear of staff members, it could be s sign that abuse has taken place.

Poor Hygiene. Nursing home attendants or caregivers are responsible for assisting residents with hygienic tasks, including bathing and grooming. If you notice that your loved one has recently exhibited signs of poor hygiene, it might indicate that they are experiencing some form of neglect.

Unsanitary Conditions. Similar to poor hygiene, unsanitary conditions or facilities is another warning sign that some form of abuse or neglect may be occurring. If you notice that your loved one’s room is dirty or unsanitary, it might indicate that the staff is not properly caring for the facilities. Unsanitary conditions resulting from infrequent cleaning can lead to the proliferation of mold, mildew, or harmful bacteria.

Increase in Health Problems. Another sign that your loved one may be experiencing some form of abuse is the sudden appearance of adverse health conditions such as coughing, allergies, or infection. These conditions may be the result of insufficient care from the staff or even outright abuse. Health complications are particularly concerning if they appear with any regularity or consistency.

What to do if You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse

If you suspect that your loved one may be the victim of nursing home abuse, the first thing you should do is file a report with the local authorities. Criminal neglect or abuse isn’t something to ignore, and the abuse may be affecting other nursing home residents as well. After you’ve notified the authorities, you may want to relocate your loved one to another care facility to ensure that they receive the treatment that they deserve. 


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