Nursing Home Abuse

As our population has aged, the number of elder abuse cases has increased at a staggering rate. According to a 2010 study, over five million cases of elder abuse were reported in the U.S. Just under 60% of those were classified as cases of neglect. There is no reliable estimate of how many cases go unreported. Too many elderly people are at the mercy of facilities that are bound by law to act as major caregivers. Sadly, the frailest and most vulnerable among us often become victims when necessary care is not provided as is required by law.

Abuse and neglect in nursing facilities result from the disregard of the consequences of the caretaker's action. This mistreatment can take the form of physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse. Additionally, seniors in these homes often suffer traumatic damage from sheer neglect.

The most egregious evidences of abuse are:

  • Pressure sores
  • Lacerations or welts
  • Bruises
  • Broken bones or fractures
  • Blood on garments or sheets

Some signs of sexual abuse are red flags for concern:

  • Bleeding around the genital area
  • Blood on undergarments
  • Bruising near breasts and genital area

Signs of neglect are numerous, but they include:

  • Dehydration (cracked lips, no water on bedside table, urinary tract infections)
  • Soiled and dirty linens
  • Sour or putrid smells
  • Improper administration of medications

While emotional abuse is more difficult to ascertain, certain indicators are:

  • Atypical withdrawal of a loved one from socializing
  • Unusual anxiety, signs of fear at the approach of caregivers
  • Sullen or disgruntled behavior of staff members and certain other residents

Emotional abuse can be caused directly or from neglect:

  • Direct mockery and taunting
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Ignoring a resident's requests or obvious needs
  • Isolation of the resident from others
  • Subtle acts of cruelty

Financial abuse is also quite common. This involves financial damage from caregivers who count on the helplessness and dependency of seniors to victimize elders in any number of ways. Some of the forms of this financial abuse are:

  • Theft of money, checks, and credit cards
  • Forgery
  • Theft of valuable jewelry and other belongings
  • Increasingly, cases of identity theft.

Members of a family may not have the time to keep track of these infractions in nursing homes and a frail senior might not notice when an item is missing. Not only does this abuse injure financially, but often articles that “go missing” are the only daily comfort these residents have connecting them to their past lives with their families.

It's not uncommon for family members to be unaware of the abuse of their elderly loved one and to even dismiss obvious signs of neglect as natural symptoms of aging. Residents themselves may be the last ones to sound the alarm regarding their abuse and/or neglect to either their caretakers or loved ones, due to fear of being punished by those very caretakers when the “word gets out.” Worse still, egregious cases of neglect and abuse often involve elderly people with Alzheimer's or degrees of dementia. All the more cause for consequences to be severe when caregivers disregard both their moral and legal obligations to provide care for these seniors.