Nursing home abuse is an elderly or disabled person’s worst nightmare. It can be a humiliating and disempowering experience. And if the abuse is physical, it can be life threatening. Since the elderly comprise over 13 percent of the population, elder abuse is an important concern. In fact, more residents have suffered some sort of nursing home abuse than is documented in official reports. Nationwide, almost half of all nursing home residents have experienced abuse, which can range from merely embarrassing to extremely fatal.
Physical Abuse: A Common Problem in Nursing Homes
Nursing home abuse takes on different forms, but physical abuse is one of the more common types of nursing home abuse. Physical abuse can include striking, pinching, punching, shaking and burning, among other things. Physical abuse in nursing homes frequently manifests itself in the following ways:
- Unexplained bruises to the body. These are some of the more common signs of physical abuse. Also, watch out for burns and evidence of pinching in the form of small bruises on the arms or sides of the body. Rope marks, welts, black eyes, broken eyeglasses, open wounds, cuts and dislocations are other notable signs of physical abuse.
- Physical discomfort. When discomfort comes as a result of nursing home abuse, the patient may be withdrawn or reluctant to confide in even a trusted adult about the abuse he or she suffered because of feelings of humiliation.
- Mental distress. Signs of mental distress, like emotional upset or agitation, may indicate physical abuse.
- Weight loss or being chronically underweight. In cases involving patient’s weight loss, physical abuse might be to blame. Residents under undue physical stress frequently suffer weight loss.
- Withdrawal from or suspension of normal activities. Withdrawal from normal activities can indicate nursing home abuse.
- Behavior typical of dementia. Rocking, biting or sucking are behaviors associated with dementia, but they are also indicative of possible physical abuse.
- Refusal to allow visitors to see the resident alone. A resident may refuse private visits in order to hide signs of physical abuse.
Physical abuse in nursing homes can also take the form of sexual abuse. Look for unexplained venereal disease and bruises surrounding the genital area.
Neglect: Another Form of Physical Abuse
Because it results in bodily harm, neglect can be also considered a form of physical abuse. Despite being paid to care for their clients, caregivers frequently neglect their elderly or disabled charges or forgo care altogether, thus endangering the lives of their wards. Some of the most neglectful caregivers ignore even a resident’s self-neglect, such as when an elderly or disabled person refuses to perform basic hygiene or take required medications.
To identify nursing home neglect, look for these two tell-tale signs:
- Bedsores. These indicate that the nursing home resident is most likely suffering physical abuse through neglect. Other signs of neglect include dehydration, unsanitary living conditions and unmonitored or untreated health problems.
- Lapses in medication regimen. Signs of not taking required medications usually indicate a larger physical abuse problem: namely, insufficient attention being paid to a resident’s self care. Signs of such neglect include inappropriate or inadequate clothing and a lack of necessary medical aids.
What to Do If You Suspect the Physical Abuse of a Nursing Home Resident
A victim of physical abuse should know his or her rights because physical abuse is punishable by law. Punishments for the physical abuse of elders and disabled people vary by state. As discussed earlier, the signs of nursing home abuse are manifold. It is important to watch for the tell-tale signs of physical abuse. In fact, eight states already require any person to report evidence of nursing home abuse, regardless of whether the individual reporting is a health care professional or not. If you suspect an elderly or disabled person a victim of physical abuse, The National Center on Elder Care suggests you follow these three rules:
- Call 911 if the abuse is life-threatening.
- If the abuse is not life-threatening or immediate, seek the care of a medical profession. Then contact the police or your local elder care services.
- Consult an attorney trained in nursing home abuse.
Physical Abuse in Nursing Homes: Let’s Help Prevent It
Don’t feel helpless in the face of possible nursing home abuse. There are actions that can help prevent physical abuse from taking place in nursing homes. Local communities can help prevent physical abuse by ensuring that nursing home facilities coordinate their efforts with law enforcement, adult protection, and regulatory and nursing home advocacy groups. Nursing home abuse can also be prevented by improving work conditions in nursing homes through adequate staffing and enhanced communication between direct care and administrative staff. Hiring practices in nursing homes should include comprehensive screening of job candidates for criminal backgrounds, histories of substance abuse and domestic violence, and anger- and stress-management best practices. Most importantly, nursing homes should strictly enforce mandatory reporting of physical abuse.
The Importance of Consulting an Attorney in Cases Involving Physical Abuse
Unfortunately, many nursing homes have yet to implement these practices to help prevent physical abuse into their facilities, and many more, despite their professed compliance with regulation, continue to employ caregivers who physically abuse elderly and disabled clients.
Therefore, if you suspect a loved one is a victim of nursing home abuse, be proactive and consult an attorney trained in nursing home abuse. Physical abuse carries with it many invisible costs, such as mental suffering and insecurity of person and belongings. That is why it is important you seek the help of a lawyer trained in the rules and regulations governing nursing home abuse in your state. A nursing home abuse lawyer will ensure you receive the compensation you and your loved one deserve for suffering the pain and sorrow that inevitably results from physical abuse in a nursing home.
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