Nursing home abuse is on the rise in the United States. We all hope that it will not happen to our loved ones, but sometimes evidence of it is so clear that it cannot be denied: a bruise on the cheek, a mysterious pressure mark on the thigh, episodes of mental distress and emotional upset. Unfortunately, such occurrences are common: half of all nursing home residents in the United States have experienced some kind of abuse. Injuries from the abuse sustained in a nursing home can range from mild to life threatening. With the elderly population comprising over 13 percent of the overall U.S. population, and disabled adults another 19 percent, nursing home abuse should concern everyone.
The most important course of action you can take to stem the tide of nursing home abuse is to learn to identify the signs of it. Nursing home abuse is insidious, and can manifest itself in many different ways. Here are ten signs of nursing home abuse with which you should be familiar:
- Unexplained bruises on the body or pressure marks on the genital area. These are some of the most 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 When discomfort comes as a result of nursing home abuse, the patient may be withdrawn or reluctant to confide in even a trusted adult about the abuse he or she suffered because of feelings of humiliation. They may also have an unexplained venereal disease, or vaginal and anal bleeding.
- Mental distress. Signs of mental distress, like emotional upset or agitation, may indicate emotional abuse, which can include verbal assaults, insults, threats, intimidation, isolation, infantilization and harassment.
- Bedsores. These indicate that the nursing home resident is most likely neglected. Other signs of neglect include dehydration, unsanitary living conditions and unattended or untreated health problems.
- Lapses in medication regimen. Signs of not taking required medications indicates a larger abuse problem: namely, insufficient attention being paid to a residentâ€™s self care. Signs of such neglect include inappropriate or inadequate clothing and a lack of necessary medical aids.
- Weight loss or being chronically underweight. In cases involving patientâ€™s weight loss, abuse might be to blame. Residents under undue emotional or physical stress frequently suffer weight loss.
- Financial difficulties. A patientâ€™s financial difficulties may mean that a caregiver in the facility may be taking financial advantage of the patient by coercing the resident to sign over goods and authorize withdrawals from bank accounts. Other evidence of possible caregiver financial exploitation include unexplained transfers of the patientâ€™s wealth to someone outside the family, forged signatures on titles and wills, the inclusion of additional names on the residentâ€™s ATM card, bills for unnecessary services, and bills going unpaid because of insufficient funds.
- 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 emotional and physical abuse.
- Refusal to allow visitors to see the resident alone. A resident may refuse private visits in order to hide signs of abuse.
Important Advice for Victims of Nursing Home Abuse
If you notice any of the above signs of abuse, The National Center on Elder Abuse suggests you do the following:
- If the abuse is life-threatening, call 911.
- If the abuse is not life-threatening, contact a medical professional. Relay your concerns to local adult protective services, long-term care ombudsman, or police.
- If you are having trouble identifying a professional to inform about nursing home abuse, consider contacting an eldercare hotline. They can help refer you to the appropriate professional.
Local communities can help prevent nursing home 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 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 abuse.
Many nursing homes have yet to instill these practices into their facilities, and many more, despite their professed compliance with regulation, continue to employ caregivers who wantonly abuse elderly and disabled clients. That is why you should familiarize yourself with the most common signs of nursing home abuse.
But there is even more you can do: If you suspect a loved one is a victim of nursing home abuse, be proactive and consult an attorney trained in nursing home abuse. Nursing home 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 accompanies nursing home abuse.
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