Recognizing the Signs of Nursing Home Injury or Abuse

If you suspect abuse or neglect, here's what to look for, and where to turn for help.

By , Attorney · University of Tulsa College of Law

More than 1.5 million people currently reside in nursing homes. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's due in part to the aging of the "baby boomer" generation. A growing nursing home population also means an increase in the incidence of nursing home abuse and neglect.

How common is the problem? Studies compiled by the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) indicate that 10% of all nursing home residents have suffered some form of abuse in the previous year. This information, coupled with other studies referenced by the NCEA, suggests that only a fraction of nursing home abuse incidents are reported.

In light of these trends, it is important to understand the warning signs of nursing home injury or abuse. Because nursing home caretakers are often the perpetrators of this abuse, the responsibility of recognizing the abuse and reporting the incidents typically falls to family members or friends. Read on to learn more.

What are the Types of Nursing Home Injury or Abuse?

There are several types of abuse or injury that nursing home residents may suffer. These include:

  • physical abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • neglect or abandonment
  • financial exploitation, and
  • healthcare fraud.

What are the Warning Signs?

The warning signs can vary from person to person and from situation to situation. Because the types of abuse and injury are so broad, it is important to understand that the warning signs may not always be typical nor what you would expect in a given situation. Both the Administration on Aging (AOA) and the National Institute on Aging suggest watching for the following developments that may indicate an instance of abuse or injury:

Warning Signs of Physical Abuse

  • sudden injuries or physical conditions that cannot be adequately explained, such as: fractured bones, broken bones, sprained joints, bruises or burns, and
  • the diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease absent an adequate explanation.

Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse

  • a sudden change from normal behavior
  • withdrawal from social activities
  • isolation imposed by the caregiver, such as where the caregiver refuses to allow family or friends access to the resident, and
  • the presence of a caregiver who is verbally aggressive, uncaring, or demeaning.

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • the appearance of an unexplained sexually transmitted disease, and
  • trauma, such as bruising or swelling, around the genitals

Warning Signs of Neglect or Abandonment

  • evidence that the resident's medication is not being administered
  • signs that the resident's personal hygiene is deteriorating
  • lack of food
  • living space is unexpectedly dirty
  • clothing or bedding is soiled
  • an appearance of bedsores or ulcers, and
  • living space lacks basic necessities such as heat, water or electricity.

Warning Signs of Financial Exploitation

  • unpaid monthly bills, or inability to pay bills
  • giving excessive and unexpected gifts, particularly to non-family members
  • giving away control of financial affairs to a caregiver, and
  • an inability by the resident to explain personal financial transactions

Warning Signs of Healthcare Fraud

  • unexpected or apparently unnecessary medical treatment or equipment
  • excessive diagnostic testing
  • caregivers' inability to adequately explain the need for particular equipment or treatment, and
  • billing to insurers or medical providers for health care services that were never provided.

What to Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse

If you suspect that a resident of a nursing home may be a victim of abuse, as a first step, consider calling 911 or your local law enforcement authority. You may also want to get in touch with Adult Protective Services.

It may also be time to contact a Nursing Home Lawyer in your area to discuss your situation. Because each state has different procedures in place to protect nursing home residents, the lawyer can assist you with reporting the abuse to the appropriate state agency, and can follow up on any reports that have been made to local law enforcement agencies. You and your lawyer can also discuss what additional legal steps might be appropriate.

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