What is physical and emotional elder abuse?
The existence of any one or more of these does not necessarily mean that abuse has occurred. However, you should treat them as signs that diligent attention or further investigation is needed.
Physical abuse includes:
- Physical assault
- Sexual assault
- Failure to assist in personal hygiene
- Failure to provide clothing and shelter
Emotional abuse includes:
- Verbal assaults, threats, or intimidation
- Subjecting an individual to fear, isolation, or serious emotional distress
The first questions to ask yourself when identifying nursing home abuse:
Does your loved one have injuries or show physical signs of neglect?
Are your loved one’s complaints insistent and frequent?
Are objections directed at a particular nursing home staff member?
Has your loved one displayed unusual behavior changes?
General Signs of Abuse
Staff refuses to allow visitors to see resident, or delays in allowing visitors to see resident.
Staff does not allow visitors to be alone with resident.
Frequent arguments or tension between the caregiver and resident.
General Signs of Physical Abuse
Call light is not functioning or is removed from resident’s reach.
Development or worsening of pressure sores (bedsores).
Excessive weight loss.
Unusual or recurring scratches, bruises, skin tears, or welts.
Bilateral bruising (bruises on opposite sides of the body).
“Wrap around” bruises (bruises that typically encircle the arm).
Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing.
Signs of excessive drugging.
Foul smelling, uncombed, or matted hair.
Patches of hair missing or bleeding scalp.
Injuries that are incompatible with explanations.
Injuries caused by biting, cutting, pinching, or twisting of limbs.
Burns caused by scalding water, cigarettes, or ropes.
Any injuries that reflect an outline of an object, for example a belt, cord, or hand.
General Signs of Neglect
Complaints about painful blisters or abrasions
Weakness or inexplicable weight loss
Constant thirst or extremely dry skin
Hazardous or unsafe living conditions
Sudden personality changes
Uncharacteristic anger, lack of interest, or anxiety
Fear of being alone
Overwhelming sadness and frequent crying
Change in alertness
Rude or humiliating comments by staff
Confused or extremely forgetful
Helpless or angry
Hesitant to talk freely
Causes of Nursing Home Abuse
Caregiver burnout is considered to be the primary cause of nursing home abuse and negligence. Greater risk is present in nursing homes with the following:
- No abuse prevention policy
- Inadequate staffing levels
- Inadequate staff training
- Insufficient employee background checks
- High staff turnover rate
- A history of complaints
Other possible reasons for greater abuse include elders with dementia or disruptive behavior, those who are dependent upon others for significant needs, and those who are socially isolated.
Elder Abuse is Illegal
No matter what the causes are, elder abuse is illegal. In 1987, the United States Congress passed the Nursing Home Reform act (NHRA), which includes the Nursing Home Residents' Bill of Rights. This forms the basis for elder law, which is the legal practice area dedicating to protecting the quality of life for residents of nursing homes and improve the quality of care provided by their caregivers.
Some of the rights and freedoms laid out in the Resident's Bill of Rights (part of the NHRA) are:
- The right to freedom from abuse, mistreatment, and neglect.
- The right to be treated with dignity.
- The right to freedom from physical restraints.
- The right to privacy.
- The right to access personal medical records.
- The right to accommodation of medical, physical, psychological, and social needs.
- The right to refuse treatment.
- The right to communicate freely with persons inside and outside the facility.
- The right to participate in the review of one's care plan.
- The right to be fully informed in advance about any changes in care, treatment, or facility's status.
- The right to voice grievances and exercise rights without interference, coercion, discrimination, or reprisal.
How We Can Help
Your brave decision to respond could help others. If you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect, or you yourself are being victimized, there are alternatives to suffering in silence. When your family is ready, call for a free consultation about your legal rights.