Awareness, Recognition and Reporting of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

Be Alert to Signs of Nursing Home Abuse and/or NeglectOver 3 million Americans reside in nursing homes.  This number is growing fairly rapidly as the population of elderly Americans continues its growth.

Placing a loved one in a nursing home is among the hardest things that anyone will have to do.  This difficult decision is made only as a last resort and is typically premised on keeping the loved one safe.

Unfortunately, there are many nursing homes that are far from safe.  In fact, some of these homes can be extremely dangerous and even deadly for their residents.

The first best thing a family can do is research the facility as thoroughly as possible prior to entrusting a loved one to its care.  After that, the family should remain alert at all times to possible neglect or abuse.

Research the Nursing Home Facility in Advance of Admission

One in three nursing homes have been cited for federal violations and one in ten nursing homes had violations that resulted in harm, serious injury, risk of death and/or death. The best way to protect a loved one is to get them to a high quality facility.  Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

It has been found that 1 in 3 nursing homes have been cited for violations of federal standards.  It has been further found that 1 in 10 nursing homes had federal violations that resulted in harm, serious injury, risk of death and/or death to the nursing home resident.

Though it may be daunting in light of these numbers, and it really is extremely difficult to know for sure, there are a growing number of online resources for checking the quality of care provided by nursing homes. A good place to start is the Medicare Nursing Home Compare site.  This site has a wealth of information on the process of finding a safe and high quality nursing home facility.

Once you have decided on a few, visit the locations.  There may be indications of neglect and abuse readily apparent from a simple view of the facility. Then talk to the staff, visit the cafeteria, walk the halls, visit with the administrators.  If they will not allow it, you might want to move to the next facility on your list.

Be Alert to Possible Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

You know your loved one best, so communicating to the degree possible is your best bet to detecting any neglect or abuse.Abuse can come in many forms.  Some of it is fairly obvious.  Other times, it may be much more subtle and difficult to detect.

It is very important to communicate with your loved one to the degree possible.  It is also important to understand that because of their situation, they may be afraid to speak up.  Other times, your loved one due to illness or disability may not be able to speak up.

Common Signs of Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect

There are many warning signs of abuse or neglect. Because your loved one may be unable or afraid to speak up, it is important to be alert for any signs of abuse or neglect.

Because your loved one may be unable or unwilling to speak up on his or her own behalf, it is important to keep an eye out for possible signs of abuse and neglect.  These are too varied to list, but include: 

  • Pressure sores are the most obvious and clear indication of neglect and abuse.  However, the family cannot rely on the staff to point them out.  In many cases, the family cannot rely on the patient for a number of reasons:  unable to communicate, fear of communicating, lack of awareness of the pressure sores…  It is very important for family members to look for these types of issues on a regular basis.  Pressure sores, if left untreated, can lead to extreme injury and/or wrongful death.
  • Injuries of any kind but particularly those that are unexplained may indicate abuse or neglect.  These can include broken bones, bruises, cuts, burns and other signs of injury.
  • Injuries suffered as a result of falls.  Falls typically indicate a lack of supervision.  Patient falls are actually listed as a never event in hospitals.  They should be viewed similarly in nursing homes.  Moreover, an injury attributed to a fall should be investigated to make sure that nothing else was at play.
  • Dehydration, weight loss, malnutrition and other such disorders indicate neglect at a minimum and possibly abuse as well.
  • Infections, particularly recurrent infections, suggest neglect.  Infections are preventable in all but a few situations.  Recurrent infections suggest a possible laundry list of bad and negligent practices on the part of the nursing home and its staff.
  • Emotional disturbances can also suggest neglect or abuse.  Often, neglected or abused patients will become agitated, withdrawn, non-communicative, volatile or other emotional states that are unusual for the loved one.  Look also for unusual and aberrant behavior.  These changes should not simply be accepted as part of the process.
  • Wandering and elopement is a fairly good indicator of neglect and possible abuse.  The fact that the patient is allowed to simply wander off suggests negligence at best.  The fact that the patient chooses to wander off may suggest much more.
  • A reluctance of a loved one to speak in the presence of nursing home staff can indicate much more than a desire for privacy.  It is important to provide some private time with the patient at every visit.  Be suspicious when staff interfere with or disrupt this private time.

You Know Your Loved One Best

Being aware of any possible changes your loved one goes through, as well as the nursing home environment, will help ensure their safety and well-being.The list above is not exhaustive.  Nor does any one item on the list, with few exceptions such a pressure sores or recurrent falls, indicate abuse or neglect.

You know your loved one best.  Despite the change in surroundings, he or she is still the same loved one.

When that begins to change, do not simply accept it as part of the aging process.  There may be more to it requiring intervention on your part.

Take Action – Report the Abuse

If you believe your loved one is being abused or neglected, take immediate action.  His or her safety and welfare should be closely guarded.

Fortunately, there are resources in New Mexico for doing just that.  We have created a page to help you get started: New Mexico Elder Abuse Resources.

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