Nursing Home Abuse: Physical, Emotional, Sexual

Nursing Home Abuse

Though many are not aware or find it hard to believe, nursing home abuse is a tragically common occurrence. The elderly residents of nursing homes all too often are often deprived of basic needs.

Because of this, nursing home residents may suffer serious injuries, including starvation, dehydration, and pressure sores. The harmful results of nursing home abuse can range from discomfort, to serious injury, and even death. Elderly residents can become victims because they are physically or mentally unable to communicate that they are suffering from abuse. Understaffed facilities or insufficiently trained employees can contribute to elder abuse cases. A nursing home's emphasis on profits above patient care and comfort can also lead to physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and even wrongful death.

Do you suspect your loved one is a victim of nursing home abuse? We can help.

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Signs and Symptoms of Nursing Home Abuse

Often, nursing home residents require almost round-the-clock attention, and may not be able to communicate the abuse or neglect that they are experiencing at the hands of staff members. Abuse is not always obvious, and may be missed if a loving family member is not watching out for their elder relative. Abuse in Nursing Homes is not always physical. Emotional, psychological, and financial abuse or exploitation may also occur. There are symptoms that may indicate whether or not a person is being treated with the proper respect and care that he or she deserves, or worse, is being abused. If a caregiver refuses to allow family or friends to see the resident or insists on being present during the visit, this might indicate that abuse is taking place. Below are some additional warning signs of abuse.

Nursing home residents are protected from physical assault under the law. However, this right may be violated by nursing home staff members or another resident. Physical assault in nursing homes is defined as the intentional use of physical force that may result in bodily injury or pain. This includes hitting, kicking, shaking, shoving, pinching, beating or burning. The injuries that a nursing home resident may suffer as a result of physical assault can be very serious and include broken bones, head injuries, and lacerations.

Nursing home physical assault can be difficult to detect in some cases. Bruises, cuts, and other signs of physical assault can be hidden by clothing. Even broken bones may not be easily noticed on a resident who is bedridden. In addition, the patient may not be able to communicate what he or she has experienced. If the injuries are noticed, the nursing home staff may try to explain them away by claiming that the victim had fallen. Other times, the physical assault may not leave outward signs, but the resident may become fearful of a certain employee or become more reclusive. Any serious physical injury requiring emergency treatment or hospitalization can be a sign that physical assault has taken place. If you feel that your loved one may have been victimized, it is important to act quickly in order to protect his or her future safety.

  • Decubitus Ulcers (Bed-sores)
  • Frozen joints
  • Cuts, abrasions and skin damage
  • Broken bones
  • Sprains
  • Dislocations
  • Bruises
  • Welts
  • Rapid, unexplained weight loss
  • Burns
  • Fearfulness
  • Broken eyeglasses
  • Skull fractures
  • Lacerations
  • Sudden Death

Emotional abuse may not always manifest its symptoms physically, but this type of abuse can be just as cruel and painful as physical abuse. Emotional/Verbal/Psychological abuse occurs when nursing home caregivers speak or act in such a way that the resident’s self-esteem and value of self-worth are diminished. This can include humiliating, cursing, intimidating, threatening, neglecting the resident; how a caregiver speaks to or about a resident (e.g. criticism, insults, demeaning vocalizations, condescension, intolerance, baby talk); or taking their own personal problems out on the nursing home resident.

Sexual assault in a nursing home involves any inappropriate touching or unwanted sexual activity. Many elderly nursing home residents are vulnerable and make easy targets for sexual predators. Sexual assaults can be committed by sexually aggressive residents who are improperly monitored by the facility staff. In other cases, sexual assaults are committed by nursing home staff members or visitors to the nursing home. Sexual behavior that can be considered sexual assault includes forcing a resident to view pornographic material, sexual harassment, threats, unwanted kissing and touching, and any genital contact or penetration.

  • Unexplained venereal diesease
  • Genital infections
  • Vaginal or anal bleeding
  • Torn or stained underclothing
  • Bruising around breasts, upper abdomen, or inner thighs

Unfortunately, nursing home residents die each year as a result of nursing home neglect and abuse. These include deaths associated with bedsores, elopement and wandering, falls, malnutrition and dehydration, and the use of excessive chemical and physical restraints. In many cases, improperly trained staff or poor operational oversight leads to life-threatening infections, falls, injuries, and illneses that could have been prevented if the proper standards of care had been followed. Determining whether a death was caused by a nursing home’s negligence requires investigation by experienced attorneys and qualified medical experts. In some cases, the nursing home will try to cover up the cause of death by stating that the resident was old and not in good health. For example, the death certificate may list the official cause of death as “heart failure” when the real underlying cause was malnutrition and dehydration caused by nursing home neglect.

  • Serious infections
  • Lack of resident supervision
  • Falls
  • Unsanitary conditions
  • Neglect of resident's basic needs
  • Medication errors

Forced isolation is a form of psychological nursing home abuse, which is also known as mental nursing home abuse. Isolation occurs when nursing home staff members refuse to give residents any attention or give them only the silent treatment. Isolation can also be a sign that staff is failing to provide nursing home residents with adequate assistance so that they can fully participate in social activities offered at the nursing home. Isolating a nursing home resident from his/her family and friends and refusing to allow family and friends to visit are also forms of mental nursing home abuse.

Isolation may ocur in conjunction with some other type of nursing home abuse, such as physical abuse. Keeping elderly individuals isolated can prevent them from seeking the assistance of friends or family members if they are suffering from mistreatment. Forced isolation can have serious psychological consequences and often leads to depression. This type of nursing home buse can be difficult to recognize because it leaves no physical marks.

Financial exploitation of the elderly occurs when an individual takes or uses the money or property of a senior for any wrongful use, or with the intent to defraud the elder. Senior citizens who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities can be victims of financial abuse by their direct caregivers or by the administrators of the nursing homes. Financial exploitation is defined as the wrongful use of an individual’s finances or property for another’s advantage. This can occur when residents' personal or financial resources are taken from them without their consent, either because the residents were incapacitated and unable to give consent or because they were subjected to threats, intimidation, manipulation, and deception. Examples of financial exploitation include cashing an elderly person’s checks without authorization, forging a senior’s signature, stealing an older person’s money or possessions, or deceiving an older person into signing any contract, will, or other document.

The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 gives nursing home residents the right to be free from physical and chemical restraints used for the purpose of discipline or for the convenience of the nursing home staff. Restraints (physical and/or chemical) may only be used to protect the health and safety of residents and, except in an emergency, only when a doctor writes an order that details the length of time and circumstances under which restraints can be used. Restraint use involes risk, and as such, it should be subject to regular observation and oversight. Because the independence of nursing home residents is a priority, the no more than the minimum level of necessary restraints should be used.

There are two types of restraints used in nursing homes. Physical restraints include restrictive chairs, bedrails, hand mitts, vests that tie nursing home residents to chairs or beds, wrist restraints, and ankle restraints. Chemical restraints are psychoactive drugs given to control unwanted and uncooperative behaviors, such as pacing, restlessness, and extreme agitation. Applying physical or chemical restraints routinely or for prolonged periods should be avoided whenever possible.

  • Humilation and depression
  • Increased cognitive dysfunction, such as disorientation and confusion
  • Decreased involvement in nursing home social activities
  • Increased agitation and loss of autonomy
  • Bedsores
  • Loss of muscle function
  • Increased bone fragility
  • Cardiopulmonary de-conditioning
  • Frozen joints
  • Lower extremity edema

While gradual changes in behavior often occur with age, sudden, extreme changes in behavior may indicate that nursing home neglect or abuse is taking place. The signs of nursing home abuse can be subtle, including shifts in the victim's behavior or an uncharacteristic hesitance to speak to family or friends. In some cases, these behavior changes can result in a complete reversal of the nursing home resident's normal behavior. For example, a lively, talkative senior may suddenly become depressed and withdrawn, and a quiet, good-natured resident may become angry and hostile. Less overt signs of negligence or abuse can include uncharacteristic requests to be left alone, the sudden inability to express or show emotions, and volatile displays of temper or cruelty toward friends and family. You should also pay close attention to unusual physical behavior patterns, such as rocking, scratching, biting, pacing, or sucking. These unexpected changes in behavior are potential indicators of emotional, verbal, or sexual nursing home abuse. They can also be caused by forms of nursing home neglect, including the failure to administer proper medication and attend to the resident's basic needs. If you have entrusted the care of someone you love to a nursing home, it is important that you visit the premises frequently and watch for changes in your loved one's behavior, as this may be a sign that they are suffering from nursing home abuse or neglect.

Nursing home residents who experience unexplained injuries may be suffering from elder abuse or neglect. These unexplained injuries can take the form of fractures, sprains, bruises, cuts, lacerations, and burns. While accidents do happen and some minor injuries cannot be avoided in even the safest nursing home, many nursing home injuries are preventable. Any time an injury takes place in a nursing home, the nursing home staff should be able to provide a reasonable explanation of how the injury occurred. Unexplained fractures or bruises don’t simply appear overnight without a cause. In addition, the nursing home staff has a duty to devise and implement a program of care for each resident in order to minimize the risk of injury. Any unexplained injury could be a sign that an elderly person is being victimized and physically abused, especially if there are multiple injuries in various stages of healing. If your loved one has sustained injuries in a nursing home or long-term care facility that can not be sufficiently explained by the staff, you should contact a nursing home abuse lawyer immediately.

What to Do If You Suspect Abuse

Victims of nursing home abuse may be embarrassed and reluctant to speak out because of threats or intimidation by staff members. If you have seen or suspect nursing home abuse, you should get medical attention for the victim as soon as possible, if warranted by the circumstances. Gather as much information as possible about the individuals involved in the suspected abuse (e.g. names, ages, addresses). After this, report the abuse to the nursing home administrator. Then file a complaint with the department in your state that regulates nursing homes and contact the local police. Elder abuse is a criminal offense and is both illegal and unacceptable, you should also seek the help of a qualified attorney with expertise this area.

Have you or someone you know become a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect? If so, contact one of our experienced nursing home lawyers today. Help End Nursing Home Abuse.