As our loved ones age, they encounter a variety of special needs related to health, mobility, and other issues. As much as we’d like to take on the responsibility of their care, it’s not always an option, especially when a loved one has complicated medical needs. Often, the best option for a family is to place an elderly loved one into a nursing home where they can receive the care and attention they need.
Unfortunately, as much as we’d like to believe all nursing homes provide the best possible care, there are those that fail to meet their obligations. Some even go as far as neglecting or mistreating patients in their care. The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates more than 30 million elderly people experience some form of abuse every year (not all of this abuse occurs in nursing homes).
Types of Abuse
Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse have all been found to occur in nursing homes. Some physical abuse occurs in response to a patient’s inability to meet the expectations of caregivers. Nursing home employees are trained to understand the needs and abilities of elderly patients and should know that not everything always goes as planned – it’s the nature of working in the healthcare field and why the job requires compassion. Unfortunately, unqualified employees sometimes lose their cool, or worse, intentionally cause harm to patients.
In addition to accounts of patients being hit, pinched, burned, and pushed, there have also been reports of sexual assault in nursing homes. Sexual assault on a nursing home patient can include any type of sexual contact or activity, ranging from kissing or touching a patient inappropriately, to rape. And because many patients are unable to defend themselves and some cannot even communicate effectively enough to share that they are being victimized, the abuse can continue for years before someone becomes aware.
Keep in mind, if a patient has dementia or has been diagnosed with any other mental impairment, it is impossible for him or her to give consent – which means any sexual activity is considered illegal.
There have also been numerous instances of nursing home patients being mentally and emotionally abused. It might seem as if this type of abuse is not as damaging as physical or sexual abuse, but it can have severe consequences on a person’s health and well-being, and it is illegal. Harassing, screaming at, or deliberately humiliating a person are all forms of emotional abuse.
In some cases, abuse occurs not because of what nursing home employees do to a patient, but because of what they fail to do. Neglect is a major concern in nursing homes across the country and it comes in a variety of forms. Denying patients access to basic needs, including food and water is neglect and it is illegal. Patients must be bathed on a regular basis, and allowed to visit the restroom and/or assisted with restroom activities as necessary. Finally, nursing home patients must have access to appropriate medical care when needed.
One of the most common forms of nursing home neglect is emotional or social neglect. There are instances of this occurring in which the nursing home staff intentionally means no harm, but fails to meet the needs of patients due to overcrowding or because they are understaffed. If a nursing home resident is ignored or left unsupervised for extended periods of time, it is a form of neglect. Patients must be offered the opportunity to socialize and if they refuse or show no interest in socializing, staff must at least interact with them in order to meet their basic daily needs.
How to Recognize Nursing Home Neglect
Though it’s sometimes difficult to recognize signs of nursing home abuse, it can be even harder to recognize the symptoms of neglect. Signs a loved one might be a victim of neglect include:
- Bedsores or pressure ulcers from lack of movement
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss or malnutrition
- Withdrawn or unusual behavior
- Change in personal hygiene
- Lack of interaction with nursing home staff or residents
If you believe a loved one might be a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, you need to take immediate action by contacting law enforcement. We want families to understand it’s also within their rights to pursue legal action on behalf of their loved ones and also to prevent future abuse of nursing home residents.