The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that almost two million people age 65 or older are currently residents of one of the more than 16,000 nursing homes operating in the U.S. And as the number of people residing in nursing homes grows, one of the unfortunate results is that they may not be receiving the high level of care that they deserve.
While some residents are neglected, many others fall victim to active abuse by caretakers and other staff members. Nursing home abuse can take a number of forms, and that will be the focus of this article.
Nursing Homes and Physical Abuse
In the nursing home setting, physical abuse includes the intentional infliction of physical harm on a resident, including slapping, punching, kicking, and use of excessive restraint (e.g., straps or chains).
The withholding of prescribed medications, or the administration of prohibited medications, can also constitute physical abuse.
Physical abuse of a nursing home resident might be the most easily detectable form of mistreatment. This is primarily due to the obvious physical symptoms that a resident may suffer and exhibit.
Some of the possible warning signs of physical abuse may include:
- a caregiver’s reluctance to allow you to be alone with the resident
- unexplained injuries, such as broken bones, sprains, bruises or scars
- reports of refusals to take medications, or of medication overdoses, and
- unexpected signs of restraints on the wrists or legs.
Emotional Abuse at Nursing Homes
Emotional abuse of nursing home residents is often less conspicuous than physical abuse, but is no less abhorrent.
Emotional abuse can be defined as any deliberate causing of anxiety, anguish, fear or other undesirable mental states. Any verbal communication that intentionally causes a person unreasonable and unnecessary emotional pain can be considered abuse. However, the emotional abuse is not limited to active efforts. It can easily occur through passive behavior, such as intentionally ignoring a resident’s verbal requests or other needs. Because of the mental pain caused to a resident, emotional abuse is just as serious and damaging as physical abuse, and may often lead to physical ailments that are a direct result of the emotional abuse.
Warning signs of emotional abuse may include:
- refusal by the caregiver to allow you to be alone with the resident, and
- questionable behavior by the caregiver in your presence, such as threats.
Financial Exploitation of Elders in Nursing Homes
Elderly people are particularly susceptible to fraud and exploitation. This is especially true of residents of nursing homes, who -- whether due to failing mental capacity or poor eyesight -- increasingly rely on others for such basic tasks as reading mail or managing bank accounts. This kind of reliance also makes older people easier targets for financial abuse.
There are three basic types of financial abuse common among older populations:
- bank account/credit card account theft
- scams, and
- healthcare fraud.
Because of the very nature of the care they provide, caregivers often have access to their older patient's bank account information. This can lead to several types of intentional abuses, such as identity theft or theft of funds. Older people also become prime targets for scams. These often take the form of solicitations for contributions to non-existent charities.
Another common type of financial abuse comes in the form of healthcare fraud. This is where a caregiver, typically in a nursing home environment, charges money for services that are either unnecessary or are never actually performed. This type of financial exploitation can have a direct impact on the person’s health, because it often means that the resident is not receiving necessary medical treatment.
If the resident is suffering financial abuse, the warning signs may include:
- unexpected changes to wills or powers of attorney
- suspicious additions of beneficiaries to life insurance policies
- disappearance of personal property or money
- unexpected charges to credit cards or withdrawals of account funds, and
- unpaid bills.
Sexual Abuse in the Nursing Home Setting
Though it is not a widely discussed issue, it is an inescapable reality that nursing home residents sometimes become the victims of sexual abuse. This occurs for many of the same reasons identified above, i.e., they must often completely rely upon others to provide care. Additionally, if sexual abuse does occur, the resident is often faced with reporting the abuse to the very person who may be the perpetrator of the crime.
It is important to remember that sexual abuse isn't limited to just physical contact between two persons. It can also take the form of verbal communication or other acts, such as requiring the resident to unnecessarily disrobe in front of a staff member or other person.
Warning signs that sexual abuse may be occurring might include:
- complaints or reports of injury around genitalia or breasts
- diagnoses of sexually transmitted diseases (STD)
- stained or torn clothing or bedding, and
- unexplained vaginal bleeding.
If you believe that a nursing home resident may be the victim of abuse, depending on the nature of the alleged abuse, it may be appropriate to contact your local law enforcement agency. At a minimum, it is recommended that you seek the advice of a nursing home abuse lawyer who has experience handling these kinds of cases, and can guide you on the best course of action.