Nobody likes to think about it, but nursing home abuse and neglect are real. Though not especially common, there are nursing homes all over the United States with lax policies or negligent workers that might allow your elderly loved ones to come to harm. There are currently more than 1.4 million people residing in 15,600 nursing homes throughout the United States, yet 37 percent of these facilities are evaluated to be below average.
It can be difficult to tell whether your loved one is being neglected or abused, but there are some hallmark signs that can help you decide.
Physical Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
First, there are some physical signs of nursing home abuse, including:
- Unexplained injuries. Elderly people tend to be more vulnerable, and may bruise easier than a younger counterpart. However, if you discover bruising, cuts, or other physical injuries on your loved one that don’t seem to have an explanation, it could be a product of abuse. Pay attention to the frequency and severity of these injuries, and listen to the reasons your caretakers provide for the injuries.
- Medication errors.Medication errors may also be a sign of abuse. For example, if your loved one isn’t taking their prescription medication at the levels or regularity they’re supposed to, it could be the sign of a problem. The same is true if your loved one has an overdose of medication.
- Broken personal items.Pay attention to the personal items of your loved ones, especially those they wear. For example, if they typically wear glasses, but their main pair has been broken or damaged, it may be a sign of abuse.
- Signs of restraint.Signs of restraint or restriction are also common in abusive situations. Look around their wrists, arms, legs, and neck to see if there are any markings from rope or a similar medium.
- Refusal to allow you to see the patient alone.If staff members are reluctant to let you see the patient alone, it may (and likely should) arouse your suspicions.
- Marks on or near sexual areas.Sexual abuse of the elderly is more common than you think. Pay attention to sexual areas, like the genitals and breasts, to see if there are suspicious markings or bruises. Blood in undergarments is another common sign here.
Mental and Emotional Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
Your loved one may also exhibit signs of abuse through their moods, thoughts, and behavior:
- Avoidant behavior. An abused elder may be avoidant or distant. They may not be responsive to you when you visit, or might not want to talk about the possibility of abuse. This is commonly associated with fear.
- Self-comforting behavior. Abused elders may also partake in self-comforting behavior. This group of mannerisms may vary from individual to individual, but may include things like rocking back and forth, muttering to themselves, or touching or rubbing parts of their body.
- Mood changes or irritability.Personality changes, including mood changes and irritability, are common in the elderly for a variety of reasons. However, in combination with other signs on this list, it could be troubling.
These may be a product of physical or mental abuse, or both.
Signs of Neglect
In some cases, there may not be any abuse present, but your loved one may be neglected by staff members. Signs of neglect include:
- Weight fluctuations and dehydration. Pay attention to how your loved one looks and acts. If they lose lots of weight quickly or seem dehydrated, it could be a sign they aren’t receiving adequate care.
- Bed sores.Bed sores are an extreme sign of abuse, and they’re hard to miss. These sores develop when someone goes too long without moving; they’re incredibly easy to prevent, but can be very painful (and get worse over time).
- Lack of sanitation.Your loved one deserves a clean, hygienic environment. If their surroundings seem dirty or poorly cared for, or if it appears they haven’t been bathed in days, it could be a sign of neglect.
- Uncomfortable clothes or environments.Do pay attention to your loved one’s clothes and general environment as well. Clothes that don’t fit, bedding that isn’t comfortable, and other factors may be a sign that they aren’t receiving the care they deserve.
If you suspect that someone you love is being abused or neglected in a nursing home, your best course of action is to speak with a lawyer. Don’t go to the nursing home directly until you get legal counsel; if they learn you’re planning legal action, they may take counteraction. Instead, listen to the direction of your lawyer and make your decisions based on their advice.