According to the CDC, or Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are nearly two million senior citizens currently in the care of nursing homes in the United States. This number only stands to grow as people live longer and our population increases. As unfortunate as it may be, too many of these folks do not receive the level of care they deserve. While some incidents of harm occur in the form of neglect, some are also in the form of active abuse, be it physical, emotional or even sexual. Learn the conditions and signs that suggest your loved one might be the victim of nursing home abuse and what you can do when this happens.
Nursing Home Abuse
Putting your elderly loved one in a nursing home is a hard decision, and it’s one that many people agonize over making. When your relative is the victim of abuse, it can be nothing short of horrific. There are many kinds of nursing home abuse, and each carries its own signs, but the major forms are physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and financial exploitation.
General signs of abuse which can indicate any of these can include the following:
- The caregiver tries to stop you from being alone with your loved one.
- Your loved one displays marked personality changes, from being withdrawn or depressed to displaying signs of fear or becoming aggressive and defensive.
Physical abuse can include everything from shoving to physically striking an elderly person or even unjustified use of restraints. It can also include withholding necessary medicine and treatments. The signs of physical abuse are:
Mysterious injuries, from broken bones to bruises, lesions or scars
- Refusal to take medication, or overdosing on medication
- Marks that may indicate signs of restraint
- Complaints of unusual or chronic pain with no explanation
Emotional abuse is any behavior towards the elderly person that is damaging to their self-esteem or self-image, or it creates conditions of anxiety, fear, desperation or anguish, or results in any condition of mental or emotional illness. Signs of emotional abuse include:
- Excessive mood swings and marked personality changes
- Witnessing abusive behavior by a staff or caregiver including insults, threats or off-color jokes that make the senior uncomfortable; in some cases, this behavior can be directed at another resident but still be harmful to your loved one.
This is the level of abuse that terrifies many people. It’s all-too-often a hidden hurt because nobody wants to face it. It is, however, potentially the most damaging form of abuse there is. When any sort of unwanted touching, verbal communication or forced behavior of a sexual nature occurs, this is sexual abuse. Making inappropriate sexual comments and requiring residents to disrobe for no reason is just as much sexual abuse as physical contact.
Signs of sexual abuse include:
- Injury around the breasts or genitalia, from cuts and tears to bruises or complaints of discomfort
- The presence of a sexually transmitted disease
- Stained bedding or clothing (especially from blood), or torn clothing or bedclothes
- Unexplained genital bleeding
Financial exploitation is another form of abuse to which elderly folks are susceptible. This occurs when staff or caregivers engage in healthcare fraud, scams or theft of funds. These caregivers often have access to their patients’ finances, and unscrupulous workers can take advantage of this. Signs of financial exploitation can include:
- Unexpected changes to the will
- Assignment of power of attorney to a caregiver
- Sudden changes in life insurance policies
- Disappearance or unexplained loss of property or funds
- Unexpected credit card or bank account changes
- Unpaid bills
What to Do
If you notice any of the signs above, it’s important to talk to your senior loved one to get a sense for what is going on. Reassure them that you want the best for them and that you want to protect them if something is going wrong. Next, you should contact a qualified personal injury attorney, as well as report the incident of abuse to the facility and contact law enforcement agencies. Elder abuse is a serious crime, and you need to do everything you can to protect your loved one from these acts.