When we help our elders move into a nursing home, we’re entrusting their care to the staff. No one wants their loved ones to be neglected or abused. Unfortunately, a devastating epidemic of elderly abuse is sweeping across the nation, especially in care facilities. At times, the staff themselves are horrified to learn how residents are slipping through the cracks; at others, more devious abusers seek jobs that place them in power over those with more vulnerable dispositions.
Nursing home abuse is a travesty, but ignoring it will not make it go away. If you suspect that your loved one is being abused, you need to know what to do— how to help them. Every minute matters when their health is on the line.
Nursing home abuse can happen anywhere to any resident. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of abuse so you can act quickly. Most abuse is a symptom of understaffing: tired nurses make mistakes. Other times, it can be an issue with accountability and documentation. Then you have malicious actors who seek out jobs that put them in power over someone and are good at hiding their actions and intimidating their victims into silence.
Nursing home abuse comes in several varieties: financial, physical, emotional, and sexual.
- Physical: hitting or tripping a resident, neglecting hygiene, or missing medications
- Emotional: degrading comments or threatening conversations
- Financial: power of attorney, scamming funds, or forging signatures
- Sexual: unwanted touches or sexual contact
Signs that your loved one may be suffering from abuse or neglect can include:
- Unexplained changes in weight
- Bruises or broken bones
- Broken hips
- Bed sores
- Falls and injuries
- Changes in behavior
- Development of STIs
- Sudden changes in spending
- New debts
Abuse and Neglect can be ongoing or short bursts. With luck, you can catch offending staff members in the act, or your loved one is cognizant and confident enough to confide in you. It is a sad truth, however, that many of our elders are placed in nursing homes because their health or cognitive function has started to fail. In some cases, they cannot communicate their concerns to us; it is up to caring family members to keep careful track of their loved ones and their health.
If you suspect your loved one is a victim in a US nursing home, there are steps you can take to help. First and foremost, in an emergency situation, get your loved one immediate medical assistance. If you catch the abuse as it happens or if your loved one is suffering a medical malady, call 911. Paramedics will arrive as quickly as possible to assist them, and you can report your suspicions to the police. Outside of an emergency, however, you can choose a few different paths.
If you believe the issue isn’t systemic, you can raise your concerns to the home’s management. Staff leaders can examine procedures and address any issues like accountability and documentation. Sometimes, neglect is truly an accident born from poor training or policy, and management can rectify the issue immediately.
If you haven’t seen significant change or think the administration may be part of the issue, it’s time to call in higher powers. You can report your suspicions to the non-emergency police line and Adult Protective Services. Both organizations will look into conditions at the nursing home and perform thorough investigations to ensure the health and safety of residents. Most states also have a department for aging residents to whom you can report the nursing home.
When tackling nursing home abuse and neglect, the first priority is the health and safety of your loved one and other residents. You may need to find a new medical care team, take your loved one to a therapist, or assist them in choosing a lawyer and navigating the legal system.
If your loved one suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, or medical neglect, the first step is to find a doctor to treat their condition and help adjust medications as needed. Until you know who was responsible, don’t trust your elder’s care to the staff at the nursing home. Instead, transport them to and from appointments yourself— or rely on friends and family you trust.
For emotional abuse, you can find a therapist in your area who specializes in individual or elderly therapy. For financial abuse, your loved one’s bank and a lawyer can help, especially if your loved one was tricked into signing forms under duress or in confusing circumstances.
While not necessary in every case of neglect and abuse, most families are more comfortable transferring their loved ones to a new nursing home. It can be difficult to regain the trust that has been lost, and your loved one’s well-being should be the priority. If you are working with a lawyer, they may have advice on safer nursing homes based on their experience.
Organizations like Nursing Home Law Center LLC can help connect you with local lawyers with experience in nursing home abuse and neglect. These lawyers can help you gather evidence and file claims against those responsible. Your loved one deserves justice, and they may need compensation to help cover their care and moving expenses. A lawyer can help you attain both.