The unfortunate reality of nursing home abuse and neglect is that it is not always obvious—even to the victim. Of course, there are blatant acts of neglect and abuse that occur. These are both shocking and heartbreaking.
Sadly, there are many instances of abuse and neglect that take place in subtle and long-term manners and go unnoticed for extended periods of time. This is especially true when the victim in question is disabled, declining cognitively or is suffering from emotional conditions such as anxiety, depression or PTSD.
In many situations, unless someone is actively looking out for signs of abuse, the actions may continue to unfold without consequence. This is why advocacy and education play critical importance in stopping and preventing nursing home abuse.
If you are seeking more information on nursing home abuse and its signs, here are some things to know.
Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
There are several types of nursing home abuse. Yet, regardless of how the abuse is being carried out, there are specific signs and patterns to look out for. If you suspect that you or your loved ones have been the victim of nursing home abuse, here are some signs to be aware of.
Signs of Physical Abuse
Physical abuse is what most people think of when they hear about nursing home abuse. Physical abuse against residents of nursing homes is typically the most obvious. This is because you can actually see and feel the tangible results of the abuse or neglect when it has taken place physically on the body.
Signs of physical abuse include:
- Broken and fractured bones from being dropped, restrained or physically battered. Common fractures in elderly people are hips, wrists and elbows from accidental falls. However, experienced physicians and healthcare professionals can tell the difference between fractures caused by falls and those caused by an assault.
- Bruises, welts and scrapes from being grabbed, restrained or having an object used against them. Pay particularly close attention to the wrists, ankles and upper arms. These are areas where it is easy to grab onto and restrain the resident.
- Broken possessions such as eyeglasses from being battered or struck across the face. This may also result in cuts to the nose, cheekbones and eye area.
- Withdrawing socially: When elderly people are physically abused, especially those facing cognitive decline, they may isolate themselves out of fear. If you notice sudden changes in their behaviors such as withdrawal from social settings, this could indicate they fear physical abuse.
- Being startled or scared easily: If a resident has faced physical assault, they may remain continuously on edge as a way of protecting themselves. As a result, they may seem jumpy or easily startled by loud noises or any sudden movements.
While some signs of physical abuse are obvious, others might be easily explained away as an accident. Therefore, it is important to look for recurring signs, as well as signs of other types of abuse that could potentially be taking place alongside physical abuse. This will help to paint a fuller picture of the extent of abuse and neglect at hand.
Signs of Emotional Abuse
Unlike physical abuse which is typically obvious and acute, emotional abuse is subtle and chronic. It takes place slowly over time and can wear the resident down emotionally, psychologically and physically. Even the residents themselves may not be fully aware it is taking place.
While it is difficult to notice emotional abuse at first, there are signs and repetitive actions that clearly indicate emotional abuse is taking place.
Signs of emotional elder abuse include:
- Changes in behavior: A common change in behavior that results from emotional abuse is withdrawing from social activity. Those who have been abused emotionally tend to avoid social situations out of anxiety and a loss of self-confidence.
- Acting scared or fearful of being left alone: Emotional abuse may cause certain residents to fear being left alone because they feel like they might injure themselves or die. If the resident is fearful to be alone with a particular caretaker, it could also indicate they do not trust that person.
- Exhibiting repetitive behaviors: A common indicator of emotional abuse is when the resident exhibits repetitive actions such as rocking back and forth, sucking or mumbling to oneself.
- Stopping taking medication: If the resident begins to refuse to take medication, it could indicate an emotional or psychological response to abuse.
Many of these behaviors and signs commonly occur with old age. However, if several of these signs are present and you notice a consistent pattern, it could indicate emotional abuse and neglect.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
Like emotional abuse, sexual abuse against nursing home residents may not always seem obvious at first.
Signs of sexual abuse include:
- Bruises on or around breasts and genitals
- Contracting venereal diseases and infections
- Underwear that has been torn or stained
- Vaginal or anal bleeding
- Social withdrawal, angry outbursts and self-isolation
Signs of Financial Abuse
Financial abuse can be difficult to detect and uncover. Financial abuse typically involves manipulating the elderly person so that they give consent. If you suspect you or your loved ones have been taken advantage of financially at a nursing home, there are multiple signs to look out for.
Signs of financial abuse include:
- Unexplained expenditures
- Inability to remember certain expenditures
- Signing up for programs that require recurring monthly payments
- Making charitable donations to unknown or unregistered causes
- Being presented with bills for unforeseen expenses such as additional medical or care costs
- Resident reports their checkbook, credit cards or personal documents missing
- Resident suddenly displays behaviors of hoarding papers and becoming secretive
Signs of Neglect
Physical, emotional and sexual abuse against nursing home residents have specific warning signs. However, with general neglect, there are plenty of other signs and patterns to be aware of.
Signs of neglect include:
- Poor appearance and general uncleanliness
- Weight loss that cannot be explained
- Bed sores
- Chronic dehydration
- Being left alone in one’s soiled diapers and garments
- Being frequently infected or falling ill and it not being immediately reported to the physician and family
- Failure to provide timely care for injuries, mobility issues or required changes in medications
- Resident’s room being left consistently uncleaned
- General lack of compassion and attention from staff members towards residents
There are many signs of neglect. If several of these signs are present, it could indicate a larger problem of nursing home abuse taking place, possibly involving multiple residents.
Actively Look for Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
Because of the potential for unseen neglect and abuse in nursing homes, it is vitally important that residents, family members, nursing home staff and even community members be aware of the various signs of elder abuse and neglect.
It is critical that those involved in the elder care industry—no matter what capacity—feel equipped with the knowledge and education regarding the many forms of elder abuse.
What to Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse
If you witness any physically or emotionally controlling behavior toward yourself or your loved ones, this could be a clear indicator of current or potential elder abuse. It is important to record details of as many signs and patterns as possible. File a report immediately to the nursing home administration.
You can also seek the help of outside agencies and government organizations, including local senior advocacy groups or your state office of the Administration on Aging which administers the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.
Remember that residents of nursing homes have rights that must be protected. Filing an official complaint helps you stop and prevent current and future instances of nursing home abuse.