While elder abuse is a growing problem in nursing homes across the country, studies suggest that much of this abuse goes unreported. The New England Journal of Medicine found that approximately one in ten elderly adults has experienced abuse of some kind, whether physical, psychological or sexual; however, a study conducted by doctors at Weill Cornell Medical College found that only one in 25 cases of elder abuse are known by the relevant agencies charged with protecting older adults. In light of this, those with a family member in a nursing home or other long-term care facility should be particularly aware of the signs of elder abuse in order to protect their loved one from ongoing harm.
First, it is important to understand that elder abuse can take many forms. Physical abuse often presents the most obvious signs. If you notice that your loved one has unexplained bruises, burns, abrasions or broken bones, the possibility of elder abuse should be taken very seriously. In such instances, the care facility may offer explanations for the injury such as an accidental fall out of bed, but examine further and make sure that the explanation lines up with the signs and symptoms. Note that a nursing home or care facility’s failure to give a resident their proper medication constitutes physical abuse.
While often less immediately obvious than blatant physical abuse, neglect on the part of the nursing home staff can lead to serious and severe consequences. Dirty clothes, inexplicable weight loss, a messy environment and lack of required medical aids such as glasses or hearing aids can all be signs of neglect. Pressure sores–also known as bedsores–are one of the most grave products of neglect. These painful sores can develop when an older adult is left lying in the same position for too long; the risk is increased for those with mobility impairments. Besides being painful, however, pressure sores can also increase the risk for infection and even death. Indeed, a study conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that pressure sores can increase the mortality rate of elderly individuals by as much as 60 percent.
Emotional or psychological abuse by caregivers can also be damaging to older adults in nursing home facilities. Signs that your family member may be experiencing such abuse include nervous behavior, a tense relationship with their normal caregiver or a withdrawn and apathetic demeanor. Lastly, sexual abuse of nursing home patients is not unheard of. Common signals that your loved one may be a victim of such abuse include bruising around the genital area, unexplained bleeding from the vagina or anus and bloody or torn undergarments.
If you do see any signs of abuse, document all evidence carefully and report any concerns to the proper authorities. Consider consulting with an attorney who specializes in elder abuse to help protect your loved one from further harm.