It is stressful and upsetting when the health needs of elderly loved ones exceed the family’s ability to care for them at home.

It is not a choice many families wish to make, but sometimes placing a frail senior in a nursing home facility is the only safe solution. Fortunately, there are over 15,000 nursing homes across the country, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. The majority of these facilities are staffed with people who are able to look after America’s estimated 1.7 million nursing home residents with care and respect. Nevertheless, abuse can and does happen and, as the population continues to age, it is a growing concern.

Risk Factors

The risk factors for abuse are complex and involve conditions unique to both the resident and his or her caregivers. While no behavior excuses abuse, an elderly resident is at greater risk of being victimized if they suffer from dementia, have a tendency to be physically or verbally aggressive, and are socially isolated. Conversely, a caregiver is at risk of abusing the elderly if they lack training, have too many responsibilities, respond poorly to stress, or are otherwise poorly suited to their job. These risk factors are not necessarily easy to detect; therefore, it is important to keep watch for signs of abuse.

Signs of Abuse

  1. Physical Abuse – Watch for unexplained or unusual injuries like tooth loss, broken bones, missing hair, sprains, or joint dislocations. Also, watch for signs of over-medication or marks on the person’s wrist, which may be an indication of physical restraint.
  2. Emotional Abuse – Sudden changes in behavior, such as rocking, sucking or mumbling, are of great concern. If staff is bullying them, elders may show increased anxiety, fear, guilt or embarrassment about their needs.
  3. Sexual Abuse – In addition to showing signs of physical and/or emotional abuse, victims may have bruises around their genitals or breasts, unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding, or torn and bloody underwear or bedding.
  4. Neglect – This is most likely to occur if the facility is understaffed. Elders may experience unexplained weight loss due to malnutrition or cracked lips and swollen tongue from dehydration. They may have untreated physical issues, such as bedsores, or have an unpleasant odor or appearance due to the lack of assistance with personal hygiene.
  5. Financial Abuse – While this is more often associated with at-home caregivers, elders can be the victim of healthcare fraud in nursing homes. Signs of fraud include double billing, evidence of under- or over-medicating, evidence of inadequate care despite bills being paid, and issues with the facility itself, including understaffing or overcrowding.

Family Advocacy

Even if an elder is capable of reporting the abuse, they may be reluctant to do so for fear of retaliation or the withdrawal of care. It is important that families act as advocates for their care in order to detect, and hopefully prevent, abuse from occurring. Calling and visiting the resident frequently, maintaining open communication with the caregivers, and monitoring the elder’s finances and prescriptions are helpful practices. In addition, families should familiarize themselves with the Nursing Home Residents’ Rights and ensure that they are respected by the care providers. In brief summary, these include the right to citizenship, dignity, privacy, personal property, information, freedom, care, residence and expression.

Detecting signs of abuse can be confusing and frightening and it can be difficult to know what to do. If an elder is in immediate danger or otherwise needs urgent medical attention, do not hesitate to call 911.

Legal Assistance

The attorneys at GreeningLaw P.C. are compassionate and will treat your case with both kindness and professionalism.

Contact us to book a free consultation. We will review your case and suggest a course of action that will provide the best chance for a positive outcome. Let us take care of you, the caregivers, so that you can focus on your family. “We fight the legal battle, so you have time for healing and renewal.” We are here to help.