Nursing home residents have legally protected rights. Their most basic and important right is access to an environment free of abuse and neglect. However, this right and many others are often violated when residents of nursing homes face one or more forms of abuse.
Abuse is a broad term and encompasses many actions, behaviors and treatments. It can range from negligence and disregard to intentional mistreatment, violence and disrespect. The severity of the abuse can also vary depending on the nursing home and the particular causes of abuse.
It is important for everyone who currently resides in or is planning on going into a nursing home to be aware of the types of abuse that can and do occur. It is also critical for friends and family members to know the potential types of abuse so they do not remain blind to unhealthy, dangerous and life-threatening situations.
Types of Abuse in Nursing Homes
There are many classifications of abuse, and they all vary in degrees of severity. However, nursing home abuse can be classified in five main types.
Types of nursing home abuse include:
- General neglect and failure to provide basic needs
- Physical abuse or violence
- Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse and monetary manipulation and exploitation
Neglect is the intentional or unintentional act of failing to provide the proper care to nursing home residents. Neglect is different from abuse. Abuse is a deliberate act performed against someone with the malicious intent to cause harm in some way. However, neglect is generally the result of indifference, oversight and carelessness.
Nursing home neglect can be committed in a number of ways:
- Leaving residents unattended for extended periods of time
- Allowing residents to remain uncleaned in their own bowel movement
- Failing to provide the necessities of life such as enough food and water
- Chronically forgetting or improperly administering medications
- Failing to provide regular baths even when requested by the resident
- Not ensuring that the residents’ rooms are properly cleaned
- Dismissing or ignoring resident’s complaints whether they are against staff or other residents
- Not reporting injuries or illness to medical staff, physicians or family members in a timely manner
- Failure to ensure the safety and security of residents
There are many more ways to commit neglect. These include emotional neglect or a lack of empathy toward residents when they need support in some way.
Physical abuse is an intentional act of causing bodily injury or trauma to a resident. Physical abuse can be committed against any kind of resident, but those with cognitive disorders may be more susceptible.
Physical abuse in a nursing home can be committed in the following ways:
- Striking, hitting or slapping
- Punching, kicking or biting
- Pushing, grabbing or shoving
- Restraining or confining with ties or other forms of restraint
- Using an object to cause injury
Physical abuse can cause severe, long-term or even life-threatening injuries to a resident. Without proper medical attention, physical abuse in a nursing home can even result in death.
Emotional, verbal or psychological abuse are words or actions carried out with the intent to cause distress, fear and mental trauma to a resident.
There are many ways to carry out emotional abuse such as:
- Insulting the resident on their appearance or intelligence
- Threatening to have the resident placed elsewhere
- Isolating them from other residents or their family
- Exerting control over residents such as limiting their use of telephone, transportation or anything else the resident may want to use
Emotional abuse can cause devastating and long-term psychological effects that can damage the resident’s confidence and their ability to enjoy their quality of life.
Sexual abuse is the intentional act of violating a resident in an unwanted sexual capacity. This can be through full intercourse, oral intercourse or through unwanted touching, groping or feeling. Sexual abuse can result in physical symptoms such as bruises, scratches or lesions around the genitals. It can also cause the resident to contract a communicable disease.
Sexual abuse not only damages a resident physically. It causes emotional and psychological damage, too. It can be perpetrated against a resident who is cognizant. However, in many cases, sexual abuse is committed against a resident who is incapacitated and unable to knowingly give consent.
Financial abuse in nursing homes is the intentional exploitation and manipulation of the resident to gain financial control over them. Those who commit financial abuse obtain illegal and unauthorized use of the resident’s finances typically by befriending the resident and gaining their trust.
Ways in which financial abuse can be carried out include:
- Not allowing the resident access to their own funds
- Stealing the resident’s personal documents such as banking statements
- Theft of their money or other possessions
- Forgery of documents
- Deceiving the resident into giving up control of their money
- Misuse of power of attorney
Financial abuse can cause stress and despair for residents as many of them lose their income and savings needed to pay for long-term care and other responsibilities.
Who Commits the Different Types of Nursing Home Abuse
In addition to knowing about the types of abuse that can take place in nursing homes, it is also important to know who the potential abusers are in a nursing home.
Nursing home abuse can be perpetrated by:
Nursing Home Care, Support and Medical Staff
In the majority of cases, nursing home abuse is committed by those who are directly responsible for the personal care, support and medical care of the residents. This includes care aides and various levels of nursing staff. These are the staff members who have direct contact with residents, provide routine care and administer medications. They are also the ones responsible for reporting health concerns such as possible illness, infections or accidents such as slips or falls.
Nursing home care, support and medical staff can commit abuse of all varieties including general neglect, physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse and exploitation.
Nursing Home Administrative Staff
Administrative staff do not physically handle the care and support of residents. However, they are still in a position to commit nursing home abuse and neglect. Administrative staff in nursing homes are also uniquely positioned to commit financial abuse against residents. These staff members can take advantage of residents financially by manipulating their accounts, exploiting their personal information and documents and stealing their funds.
Administrative staff can also commit emotional, verbal or psychological abuse against residents. This is often done in ways such as withholding information from residents, delaying responses to concerns residents or their family members have raised or any other way that causes stress or anxiety through manipulation.
Other Nursing Home Residents
The nursing home has a legal duty of care to provide an environment free of abuse, violence, neglect and harassment to all residents. This duty of care also includes acts of abuse committed by other residents.
Professional nursing home staff must be constantly aware of their residents’ actions when it comes to their interaction with each other. If nursing home staff witness abuse being committed by a resident, it is their responsibility to protect the victim.
Other residents are capable of committing any type of nursing home abuse whether it be physical, emotional, sexual or financial. When complaints about other residents’ actions are not taken seriously, the nursing home is and should be the party held accountable.
Sadly, in many instances of abuse perpetrated by another resident, the one committing the act suffers from a cognitive illness such as Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. Sometimes residents become violent toward each other, and it is the responsibility of the nursing home staff to resolve these issues to ensure everyone’s safety.
On the other hand, in many cases, the victim is the one who suffers from a cognitive illness. They are, therefore, easier for other residents to take advantage of. This is when physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse can occur.
Visiting Family Members
While less commonly thought of, family members who come to visit their senior relatives in nursing homes are in a unique position to commit abuse. Family members can perpetrate any kind of abuse against the resident including physical, emotional, sexual and financial.
The nursing home still has a responsibility to protect its residents from abuse even when carried out by a family member. It is vital for professional staff members to be aware of interactions between family members and recognize the potential for abuse.
Nursing home staff must take all complaints and concerns seriously when it comes to their residents’ relationships with visiting family members.