Numbers from the last census revealed there are approximately 1.4 million elderly Americans living in nursing homes… due mainly to the increasing number of baby boomers filling the beds.
Nursing homes are, for most residents, a safe and reliable environment. Yet many times, some facilities are unable to provide their residents with the safety and security they need and deserve. In truth, elder abuse is a widespread occurrence in nursing homes in America.
But precisely what is elder abuse? More importantly, how can you stop it from happening to your loved one?
The best way to answer these questions is by investigating the 7 types of elder abuse identified by the National Center on Elder Abuse.
1. Physical Abuse
Physical abuse occurs when an older person is subjected to physical pain, ongoing impairment, or bodily harm. It’s one of the most recurring forms of elder abuse in nursing homes today. It includes kicking, beating, pushing, shoving, slapping, biting, burning, or shaking the victim. Sometimes, this form of abuse can also involve the use of restraints, inappropriate use of drugs, and force-feeding an elderly person.
How can you tell if your loved one has been the victim of physical abuse? Here’s a list of some physical signs of nursing home abuse:
- Bruises, fractures, dislocations or broken bones
- Bleeding or internal injuries
- Sprains, lacerations, welts or open wounds
- Restraining devices in the room or marks from ropes on their wrists
- Unexplained cuts, scars, or welts
- Broken personal items such as eyeglasses
- Abrupt changes in the behavior of your loved one
- The refusal by staff for you to see your loved one alone
- Reports by your loved one that they were kicked, slapped, hit, or mistreated
- Evidence that your loved one isn’t taking medication according to the doctor’s instructions
Physical abuse can be life-threatening, so if you suspect it is happening, take action immediately. You should consider bringing the issue to the attention of a nursing home abuse lawyer right away.
2. Sexual Abuse
What’s more horrifying than to suspect that your elderly loved one is the victim of sexual abuse? Unfortunately, sexual abuse does happen, and women are the more likely victims.
Sexual abuse happens when the victim is exposed to non-consensual sexual contact or intercourse. Forms of sexual abuse include unwanted touching, coerced nudity, sexual nudity, sodomy, taking pictures of nude individuals, and intercourse.
So what signs should you be on the lookout for?
- Unexplained infections in the genital area
- STDs that cannot be accounted for
- Bruises on genitals or the breasts
- Bleeding from the vagina or anus
- Stained or torn underwear
- Claims by the elder that they’ve been victims of sexual abuse
Keep in mind your loved one may not always be willing to share reports of sexual abuse, so you need to play detective at times. If your loved one starts to exhibit troubling behavior such as scratching their private areas or physical discomfort when they sit down, investigate.
3. Emotional or Psychological Types of Abuse in Nursing Homes
Emotional abuse may not be immediately apparent, but it’s just as unsettling as other types of elder abuse. This form of abuse occurs when your elder is the victim of pain, anguish, or distress through verbal or other means. Some examples of emotional abuse include verbal assault, threats, humiliation, harassment, and intimidation.
Typically, emotional abuse involves treating the elderly loved one as a child, especially by isolating them from friends and family. Caregivers may also give your loved one the silent treatment, socially isolate them, or withhold their personal items.
While visiting your loved one, watch out for the following signs and symptoms:
- The elder is visibly agitated or appears emotionally upset
- The elder does not communicate, is withdrawn or unresponsive
- Your loved one exhibits fear or anxiety in the presence of some caregivers
- The elder has unusual behavior such as rocking, mumbling, or thumb-sucking
- Personal items like journals and photographs are missing
In the case of missing personal items, always follow up with the staff to find out why you can’t see them. Sometimes, there’s a logical explanation.
4. Financial Abuse of the Elder
Financial abuse happens when a caregiver improperly or illegally acquires an elder’s assets. How does it happen?
The perpetrator could forge your loved one’s signature, sign their checks, take cash from them, steal possessions from them, or coerce them to sign documents. The perpetrator could also wrongly use the benefits of being a senior’s power of attorney, conservator, or guardian.
How can you tell if a nursing home is financially exploiting your loved one? Look for the following signs:
- Unexplained changes in your loved one’s bank account where large amounts of money have been withdrawn
- A caregiver’s name appears on the bank card of your loved one
- There are changes in legal documents, such as the will
- Your elder’s possessions have disappeared
- Unauthorized use of an elder’s ATM card
- Your elder receives standard care when they can afford better care
- The provision of unnecessary services
- Transference of assets to a non-family member
- A sudden reappearance of relatives who claim rights to your loved one’s affairs or possessions
- Forged signatures on financial transactions and titles
- Claims by your loved one that they’ve been financially exploited
A practical solution to protecting your loved one from financial exploitation is to to place limits on access to their cash and bank accounts. Designate only one or two family members you can trust as signers on their accounts.
5. Neglect of the Elderly Residents
The primary reason for taking a loved one to a nursing home is to make sure he/she receives the care they need. This is why “neglect” is one of the most disturbing types of elderly abuse.
Neglect occurs when a nursing home fails to provide residents with the care they need to lead a comfortable life. Often, inadequate staffing in the nursing home is the main reason the facility fails to provide top-quality care.
However, there are other instances where the nursing home fails its obligations by not providing such necessities as food, water, clothing, shelter, personal safety, medicine, hygiene, and comfort.
How can you tell if your loved one is a victim of neglect? Here are some telltale signs:
- Failing to provide sanitary living conditions for the elder
- Letting the elder live in a hazardous environment such as a room with faulty wiring or lack of heat
- Not paying attention to the elder’s hygiene
- Not making sure that the elder is dressed appropriately for the weather
- Drastic weight loss that cannot be accounted for
- Bedsores arising from not turning the patient regularly
- Unaddressed health problems
- Unpleasant smells in their rooms
- A report of neglect from your loved one
6. Abandonment of the Elderly
You wouldn’t desert your senior loved one in an unfamiliar environment, so why would a caregiver or someone who has custody over them do that? That’s what abandonment entails.
The common signs of abandonment include:
- Deserting an elderly person at a public place, such as a mall
- Deserting a senior in a hospital or even at the nursing home
- Claims of desertion by your loved one
Abandonment can expose your loved one to risks or cause confusion and anxiety to the elder.
7. Self-Neglect By the Elder
In some cases, an elderly person can engage in behaviors that pose a threat to their health and personal safety. For instance, the elder may fail or refuse to give themselves the appropriate amount of food or water. Sometimes, the elder fails to clothe themselves properly, take medication, or shelter themselves appropriately.
Such abusive tendencies are referred to as self-neglect. Keep in mind that self-neglect does not include instances where a mentally competent elder is making a voluntary decision to engage in behaviors that threaten their health.
How can you spot self-neglect in your loved one? Look out for these signs:
- They are living in an unsanitary living environment
- They aren’t using their hearing aid, glasses, or dentures
Stop Nursing Home Abuse
Suspecting that your loved one could be the target of abuse in nursing homes can be distressing. Fortunately, there are ways to confirm or dispel your fears. The moment you have irrefutable proof of nursing home abuse, don’t hesitate to take appropriate action.
Keep checking for more great content like this on our blog.
If you’d like legal assistance on nursing home abuse, we’d like to help you. You can speak to us for free. Call 904-LAW-1212 anytime, day or night.