Elder abuse is a problem that plagues millions of families. 2.4% of older adults reside in nursing homes, equating to 1.3 million elderly Americans. If we count those in assisted living, that’s an additional 918,700 elderly individuals. However, regardless of the size of the population, elder abuse in nursing homes and assisted living facilities is a serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
The key to protecting older people against physical and emotional trauma is to detect signs of abuse in nursing home facilities as early as possible. Many don’t realize this, but elder abuse often goes undetected because many victims cannot alert their families of their grievances because of distance, estrangement, etc.
If you have a loved one currently living in a nursing home or assisted living facility, you should be aware of the risks they could face from an abusive or neglectful caregiver. Learn the signs of abuse in nursing homes so that you can always look out for them.
What is Nursing Home Abuse?
The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) defines nursing home abuse as intentional neglect and abuse towards older adults, causing them serious physical, mental and emotional harm. Intentional acts that put the elderly at harm’s risk can also be considered nursing home abuse.
Such abuses often happen in nursing homes, although they can also happen in elderly victims’ homes, where they are likely living alone.
The abuse stems from the fact that older people – vulnerable and unable to care for themselves, much less defend themselves against aggressive acts of abuse – have been entrusted to professionals who are expected to provide care, companionship and protection, among other things.
A victim’s health can suffer if the abuse goes unchecked for too long. It can lead to illness, injury, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and even untimely death.
Unfortunately, elderly abuse in nursing homes is widespread. The NCEA reports that 10% of nursing home residents have experienced abuse from their caretakers. Additionally, only a small number of these incidents are being reported and documented by relevant offices and organizations.
U.S. and California laws impose harsh punishments for elderly abuse in nursing homes; it can even lead to revoking professional licenses and business licenses. Because of this, many nursing facilities hold internal inquiries first, and will want to address abuse reports quietly without having to involve the authorities.
It is, therefore, crucial for families and friends of the elderly living in nursing homes to be observant and always up-to-date about their loved one’s welfare. Even if you’re confident that the institution where your loved one stays is trustworthy, you still need to know the signs of abuse in nursing facilities. Recognizing them as quickly as possible might save the life of your elderly family, relative or friend.
Types of Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes and Residential Care Facilities
Elder abuse can take many forms, and is defined differently depending upon whether you are looking at Federal or State law, criminal or civil laws, and even between different State agencies. Under California’s civil laws, the various forms of abuse are defined as:
- Physical Abuse: Assault, battery, assault with a deadly weapon or force likely to produce great bodily injury, unreasonable physical constraint or prolonged or continual deprivation of food or water, sexual assault, or use of physical or chemical restraint or psychotropic medication for punishment, for a period beyond that for which the medication was ordered, or for any purpose not authorized by the physician and surgeon.
- Emotional or Psychological Abuse: Forms of intimidating behavior, threats, harassment, or by deceptive acts performed or false or misleading statements made with malicious intent to agitate, confuse, frighten or cause severe depression or serious emotional distress of an elder or dependent adult.
- Sexual Abuse: Sexual battery, rape, rape in concert, incest, sodomy, oral copulation, sexual penetration, or lewd or lascivious acts against an elderly person or dependent adult.
- Neglect: The negligent failure of any person having the care or custody of an elder or a dependent adult to exercise that degree of care that a reasonable person in a like position would exercise, or the negligent failure of an elder or dependent adult to exercise the degree of self-care that a reasonable person in a like position would exercise. Neglect includes, but is not limited to, failure to assist in personal hygiene, or in the provision of food, clothing, or shelter; failure to provide medical care for physical and mental health needs; failure to protect from health and safety hazards; and failure to prevent malnutrition or dehydration.
- Abandonment: The desertion or willful forsaking of an elder or a dependent adult by anyone having care or custody of that person under circumstances in which a reasonable person would continue to provide care and custody.
- Financial Abuse: Occurs when a person or entity takes, secretes, appropriates, obtains or retains real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult for a wrongful use or with intent to defraud, does so by undue influence or assists in doing so.
People who habitually commit these acts of abuse usually hide their offenses. Sometimes elderly victims have dementia or other memory problems, and cannot reliably recall or report the abuse. Other times the victims feel intimidated or scared that their situation will worsen if they report their abusive caregivers. In worst-case scenarios, the abusers threaten their victims to stay silent.
For these reasons, families and friends must be vigilant and watch for signs of abuse in facilities. Try to identify whether your parent, grandparent or elderly relative is in inexplicable distress because that could mean they are suffering one or more types of abuse.
Signs of Abuse in Nursing Home Facilities
To help families protect their elderly relatives against nursing home abuse, we’ve compiled lists of common signs of abuse or neglect and changes in behavior to watch out for whenever you visit the facility and interact with your loved one.
Here are common signs of abuse in nursing homes:
- Unreported injuries or sudden injuries your loved one couldn’t sufficiently explain, like broken bones, burns or welts on their arms and legs.
- Bruises, lesions and sores unrelated to the elderly’s health issues.
- Lack of hygiene or incontinence care as shown by signs such as odors, dirty hair, poor oral hygiene, being left in soiled diapers, long or dirty nails, and unwashed clothes.
- Marks around the wrists and ankles that resemble restraining straps.
- Visible lack of housekeeping in your relative’s private rooms, such as dusty floors, musty curtains, dank and unwashed bedclothes, a messy kitchen sink, a dirty toilet and bath, etc.
- No sign of proper medication monitoring, like keeping prescriptions in organizers, medicine intake logs or doctors’ notes and reminders.
- Lack of fresh, good food and beverages, even if there is a refrigerator or good pantry in the suite.
Whenever a person suffers abuse, they will inevitably show signs of it on their bodies and through changes in behavior. So watch out for changes in behavior and deviations from their usual attitude, hobbies, activities, etc. Below are some red flags that you might observe in your elderly relative:
- A sudden tendency of the elderly to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, even in warm weather.
- Abnormal behavior and a sudden withdrawal from habits and activities that the elderly used to enjoy.
- Refusal to participate in social activities when they previously enjoyed doing them.
- Increasing preference to be isolated from everyone.
- Sudden change in demeanor – the elderly becomes quiet, withdrawn or tense – when the suspected caregiver is present.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Inexplicable weight loss, limping, pain in the genital area and other signs of physical and sexual abuse.
Abusive people do their best to avoid suspicion. However, they succumb to telltale signs precisely because they want to hide their abuse. Here are some things to look out for in your elderly relative’s assigned caregivers:
- Suspicious behavior, such as encouraging the elderly’s sudden antisocial behavior and self-imposed isolation.
- Hostile tone, words and demeanor toward the elderly when they think no one is watching.
- Unrepentant disrespect towards the elderly.
- Using the elderly’s possessions and accommodations without their express permission.
What To Do if a Loved One Becomes a Victim of Abuse or Neglect in a Nursing Home or Residential Care Facility
Our elderly parents, relatives and friends deserve a safe, caring and loving environment. Even if you’re not with them 24/7, you can still look after them and ensure their safety.
If you suspect that they are suffering abuse from their nursing home caregivers, you need to act quickly. Get in touch with our elder abuse attorneys at Holm Law Group and seek advice on what legal steps to take to ensure the abusive staff can no longer harm your loved one or anyone else in the future.