Signs of Abuse in Nursing Home Facilities

Because nursing home abuse takes many forms, the warning signs may not always be obvious. The best way to protect your loved one is to become familiar with the common signs of abuse in nursing home facilities. If they have already been victimized, learn how you can get legal help now.

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Understanding Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

Elderly woman in nursing home bed holding hands.

The unfortunate reality of nursing home abuse and neglect is that it is not always obvious — even to the victim. Of course, blatant acts of nursing home neglect and abuse occur, and they are particularly shocking and heartbreaking.

However, many instances of abuse and neglect go unnoticed, occurring over extended periods. This is especially true when the victim is disabled, declining cognitively, or already suffering from emotional conditions such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These issues might prevent seniors from reporting or speaking out against nursing home abuse. Seniors may also not speak out because they fear staff members will treat them worse.

“Victims of mistreatment or abuse can be afraid to speak up, either because they’re afraid of retaliation or because they don’t want to get a caregiver in trouble.”

Rush University Medical Center

Unless someone actively looks out for warning signs of abuse in nursing home facilities, it may continue without consequence. This is why becoming educated on the common signs of elder abuse in nursing homes is critically important.

Being a vocal advocate for your loved one is often the only way to prevent nursing home abuse — or stop it if it is already happening.

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Common Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

There are several types of nursing home abuse, and each one tends to have different warning signs. To follow are some common signs of nursing home abuse and neglect by type. Knowing what to look out for is the best defense in keeping yourself or your loved one safe.

Signs of Physical Elder Abuse

Physical elder abuse is the intentional use of force, including pushing, slapping or hitting, kicking, and burning. When a nursing home resident experiences injuries, pain, distress, or even death, physical elder abuse could be at play.

Physical injury to nursing home residents is typically the most apparent form of abuse. This is because you can usually see evidence of abuse on the body.

Signs of physical abuse include:

  • Broken bones and fractures: due to being dropped, restrained, or physically battered. While seniors are at increased risk for fractures from accidental falls, experienced healthcare professionals can tell the difference between fractures caused by falls and those caused by assault.
  • Broken possessions such as eyeglasses: could mean a nursing home resident was battered or struck across the face. This may also result in cuts to the nose, cheekbones, and eye area.
  • Bruises, welts, and scrapes: from being grabbed, restrained, or having an object used against them. Pay close attention to the wrists, ankles, and upper arms, where it is easy to grab onto and restrain the resident.
  • Social withdrawal: may be a sign that a resident is being physically abused, especially those facing cognitive decline, who may isolate out of fear. If you notice sudden changes in behavior such as withdrawal from social settings, it could mean they fear physical abuse.
  • Startling easily: could be a sign that a nursing home 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 sudden movements.

While some signs of abuse in nursing home facilities are obvious, others might be explained away as accidents. Therefore, it is important to look for patterns and signs of other types of abuse that could be taking place. This will help paint a picture of the true extent of the abuse.

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Signs of Sexual Elder Abuse

A sad reality of sexual abuse in nursing homes is that it can often go undetected. This is because most people cannot bring themselves to accept that it happens. As disturbing as it is, knowing nursing home signs of sexual abuse is the only way to stop it.

Signs of sexual abuse in nursing homes include:

  • Blood found on clothing or linens
  • Bruises around the breasts or genitals
  • Changes in behavior, especially if a specific person is around
  • Social withdrawal, angry outbursts, or self-isolation
  • Underwear that has been torn or stained
  • Unexplained sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Vaginal or anal bleeding

Sexual elder abuse involves any form of unwanted sexual interaction. It could include sexual contact, penetration, or sexual harassment.

Signs of Financial Elder Abuse

Financial abuse can be difficult to detect because it often involves manipulating the elderly person so that they give consent. Financial exploitation in a nursing home is sadly a common occurrence. Top warning signs include missing money or belongings.

Signs of Emotional Elder Abuse

Unlike physical abuse or nursing home neglect, which tend to be more obvious, emotional abuse is often subtle. It usually takes place slowly over time and can wear the resident down emotionally, psychologically, and physically. Even residents themselves may not be fully aware it is taking place. While it is difficult to notice emotional abuse at first, there are certain signs to watch for.

Signs of emotional elder abuse include:

  • Acting fearful of being left alone, especially with a particular caretaker
  • Behavior changes, including withdrawing from social activity due to anxiety and a loss of self-confidence
  • Exhibiting repetitive actions, such as rocking back and forth, sucking hands or fingers, or mumbling
  • Refusing medication or choosing not to eat at regular mealtimes

Many of these behaviors are common with old age. However, if several of these signs are present and you notice a consistent pattern, it could indicate emotional elder abuse.

Signs of Nursing Home Neglect

Neglect in nursing homes has gotten more attention in recent years, as it can be just as dangerous as other forms of abuse. Generally speaking, nursing home neglect occurs when a facility or its employees do not fulfill their obligations to properly care for residents.

Signs of nursing home neglect include:

  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Failure to keep up with medication changes
  • Frequent infections that lead to sepsis
  • General lack of compassion and attention from staff
  • Hazardous living conditions
  • Poor appearance and general cleanliness
  • Pressure ulcers, especially those that advance to stage 4 bedsores
  • Soiled clothes or linens
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unsanitary or unclean room
  • Untreated injuries

Any of these examples could be red flags for a much larger problem. If nursing home neglect is allowed to continue, it can create life-threatening conditions, even leading to wrongful death.

It is important to understand that nursing home neglect is never acceptable, and you may be able to take legal action.

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Actively Look for Signs of Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse

Because of the potential for unseen neglect and abuse in nursing homes, it is critical that residents, family members, nursing home staff, and even community members be aware of the signs of elder abuse in nursing homes.

If your loved one is suffering from abuse or neglect in a nursing home, do not wait to take action.

What to Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse

If you witness any signs of abuse in nursing home facilities, it is important to document as many details as possible. This includes taking photos and getting copies of medical records that may prove abuse or neglect.

If you or your loved one is in immediate danger, call 911 without delay. You may also wish to contact the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman in your particular state.

You may also be able to pursue legal action through a nursing home abuse claim. Filing a lawsuit with an experienced nursing home abuse law firm could allow you to access financial compensation. This money could be used to move your family member into a facility that properly cares for them.

Do not wait to take action — Nursing Home Abuse Justice patient advocates are standing by 24/7 to discuss your situation.

We can help you determine if you are able to file a case. Get started now with a free case review.

You deserve justice. Get a free legal case review now.

Nursing Home Abuse Justice Team

Nursing Home Abuse Justice was founded to shine a light on nursing home and elder abuse. Every day, thousands of people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are abused. Our team helps educate seniors and their loved ones on the common causes, signs and preventions of nursing home abuse. We report on real-world studies and current events from respected news outlets to expose this national problem.

Last modified: November 16, 2023

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