Over 3 million elderly Americans live in a nursing home or other long-term care facilities. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the number of nursing home residents will rise, with as many as 40% of adults entering a nursing home or long-term care facility in their life. While most nursing home residents are well cared for, nursing home abuse and neglect remain a national concern. Victims of nursing home abuse or neglect have a 300 percent greater chance of dying in the three years following the trauma than seniors who are not.
While nursing home abuse is similar to nursing home neglect, the main difference is that with nursing home abuse, the caregiver intends to harm the patient and nursing home neglect is the result of substandard care. Nursing home abuse can involve physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, financial exploitation, intentional neglect of care, or abandonment.
There are four major types of nursing home neglect, often a result of inadequate staffing at a facility:
Medical neglect: failure to adequately address or prevent the patient’s medical needs.
Basic needs neglect: failure to provide sufficient food and water or a safe, clean environment.
Personal hygiene neglect: failure to provide adequate support for cleaning, brushing teeth, bathing, etc.
Social/emotional neglect: when the patient is left alone for extended periods of time, restrained or medicated unnecessarily, or yelled at repeatedly.
An elderly patient residing in an abusive or negligent nursing home is at a higher risk for serious injuries, infection, diseases, and death. But, nursing home abuse and neglect can be difficult to detect, and many cases go unreported. The warning signs of abuse or neglect are often subtle and come about slowly over time. There may not even be any physical evidence of the harm caused to an elderly patient. Also, the behavioral changes in a resident may not be easily identified unless the patient feels comfortable talking about what is going on – either to loved ones who visit or to facility personnel. Identifying signs of abuse or neglect and reporting concerns to the proper authorities can save a senior’s life.
Signs of nursing home abuse or neglect include:
Broken bones or fractures
Bruising, cuts or welts
Dehydration or malnourishment
Frequent infections or illnesses
Mood swings and emotional outbursts
Changes in personal hygiene or appearance
Sudden or unexplained weight loss
Reclusiveness or refusal to speak
Refusal to eat or take medications
Sudden and unexplained death
Caregivers who will not leave patient alone with others
Environmental hazards such as poor lighting, slippery floors, unsanitary/unclean rooms, unsafe mobility equipment, or unsafe furniture in the nursing home patient’s room
While nursing home abuse and neglect can take many forms, they are all damaging to the senior and their loved ones. Nursing home staff, caretakers, and a patient’s family must all take active steps to protect senior citizens, prevent abuse or neglect, and report it when necessary. It is important to have open and frequent communication between a patient’s family, care team, and facility administration and for family members to be involved in a loved one’s care. If abuse or neglect is suspected, families should contact a nursing home ombudsperson and a qualified nursing home abuse lawyer.