A primer on nursing home abuse and neglect

An estimated 10 percent of nursing home residents are abused or neglected.

Nursing homes, residential care communities and assisted living facilities provide care for the elderly and incapacitated that loved ones and part-time caregivers may not be able to handle. These facilities also provide a sense of community for the elderly, many of whom have no surviving family members.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of Americans over the age of 85 is projected to hit more than 19 million by the year 2050. With the population aging at such a rapid rate, these types of facilities are a vital part of our health care infrastructure. That being said, however, there is an enormous potential for abuse or neglect of the vulnerable residents housed in them.

Studies and surveys performed around the country show that around 10 percent of all nursing home residents suffer some form of mental, physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse. Tragically, that number may be on the low side, as many incidents go unreported by patients too afraid, impaired or physically unable to speak up.

Common indicators of abuse or neglect

While there is no definitive factor that is indicative of elder abuse or neglect, there are warning signs to look for if you have a loved one in a care facility.

For example, while our bodies do become more frail as we age, leading to overall weakness and thinner skin, unexplained bruising or multiple broken bones could indicate that a resident has been beaten or isn't being adequately supervised (and has fallen numerous times as a result). As a corollary to this - and also in circumstances of sexual abuse or molestation - a resident will often show signs of fear, submissiveness or hesitancy around particular staffers who have been abusive. Abused patients could also refuse to be alone with their abusers. If you notice that a loved one is suddenly avoiding a caregiver, this could indicate that he or she no longer feels safe around that person.

The presence of bed sores (medically referred to as "decubitus ulcers") usually indicates that an immobile resident isn't being moved as much as he or she should, an all-too-common sign of neglect. These sores happen when there is a combination of consistent pressure and inadequate blood flow to certain areas, often on the pelvis, rear end, spine, heels and shoulder blades. If these sores appear, they can easily let bacterial and viral infections enter the patient's body. This could be fatal to someone with a compromised immune system.

Other signs that could point to the presence of abuse include:

  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Exposure to the elements (including hypothermia, wind burns, sunburn, chapped skin and bug bites)
  • Burns/scald injuries
  • Unexplained cuts, scratches, bruises, fractures or other injuries
  • Lack of sanitation/personal grooming
  • Frequent urinary tract infections or stomach ailments (this could indicate that the patient's bodily functions aren't being adequately tended to)
  • Sudden behavior changes not explained by changes in medication or medical condition

If you suspect that a loved one is being abused or neglected in a nursing home or other care facility, speak up. After all, your loved one deserves to live free of fear and mistreatment. For information about how to hold abusers and facilities accountable for abuse and negligence of residents, contact an experienced personal injury attorney like those at the Phoenix law office of Harris Powers & Cunningham. Call the firm today locally at 602-910-6779, toll-free at 888-691-0990 or contact them via email.