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Recognizing common types of nursing home abuse

There is an estimated, two million adults aged 65 or older who live as residents of nursing homes across the country. As the population continues to age and these numbers increase, cases where elderly residents fail to receive the proper care they require will continue to rise as well. While there are many cases where residents in overcrowded or understaffed facilities report some form of neglect, there are also many cases where elderly patients and residents are the victims of some form of abuse committed by those who have been trusted with their care. 

Physical abuse

Physical abuse in a nursing home can involve any physical infliction of pain by staff on a resident and can include physical violence such as slapping and kicking, but also can involve unnecessary or excessive physical restraints. A form of physical abuse that is more unique to a nursing care setting is the withholding of necessary prescription medication as well as administering medication that is not for the patient or considered prohibitive.

Some symptoms of nursing home physical abuse include:

  • Injuries such as bruising, scratches, or scars
  • A caregiver that tries to prevent you from being alone with your loved one
  • Reports of your loved one refusing medication
  • Signs of restraints, most often appearing on the wrists or legs

While these symptoms don't always point to physical abuse, they warrant more investigation and a heart to heart with your loved one.

Emotional abuse

While emotional abuse can be much harder to determine than physical abuse, it is no less devastating to your loved one. Emotional abuse can be characterized as verbal communication or language that causes an individual any unnecessary emotional pain including fear, anxiety, or anguish. This type of behavior is the most common form of emotional abuse, but in nursing homes, emotional abuse can take a more passive form as well. Emotional abuse can also occur by staff ignoring a residents needs. 

Signs of emotional abuse that you should look out for include:

  • Questionable behavior by staff in your presence including threating behavior, demeanor, or aggressiveness with residents
  • A staff member limiting your private interaction with your loved one or acting in an intimidating manner when they leave

Sexual abuse

Unfortunately, because residents at nursing facilities rely entirely on others for their care, sexual abuse can occur and often fails to be reported. Elderly residents provide a vulnerable group for those who wish to prey on others and due to their dependent situation they may not report sexual abuse because the primary person they may have to report it to may be the person committing the crime against them. It is important to understand that sexual abuse can also occur without physical contact through things such as inappropriate verbal comments or inappropriate liberties requiring residents to disrobe. 

Some warning signs of sexual abuse to watch out for include:

  • Torn clothing or stains on clothing or bedding
  • Vaginal or rectal bleeding that has an unexplained cause
  • Injury to the genitals or breasts

Financial exploitation

Another complication that can arise from an elderly resident's dependence on others is a risk for financial exploitation. Residents can have poor eyesight or poor understanding of documents or financial requirements and can be easily misled when it comes to management of their bank accounts or finances. Often caregivers have some control over their ward's financial accounts or may have to access to the items in their rooms, creating the risk of theft and fraud. Many residents trust their caregivers and may not question any suspicious activities until it is too late and their money is gone. 

Some of the warning signs that you should be vigilant for include:

  • Disappearance of property of money
  • Bills that stop being paid
  • Unexplained credit card charges or account withdrawals
  • Changes to wills or power of attorney
  • Changes to life insurance policies

If you suspect your loved one is a victim of nursing home abuse, it is important to seek legal counsel immediately to ensure that your rights are protected. 

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