Nursing Home Abuse and How to Detect It

Jun 8, 2016

Nursing Home Abuse and How to Detect It

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Today over 3.2 million seniors live in U.S. nursing homes, with 40 percent of all Americans projected to enter one in their lifetime. In the next few decades, these numbers are expected to grow, making proper senior care of increasing importance.

We all want to believe that our elders are being treated with dignity at every turn, yet the unfortunate truth is that abuse is far too common. What’s worse is that elder abuse is even more difficult to detect from the outside of a nursing home looking in.

It’s estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse is reported. With 1 in 6 residents likely to experience abuse in some form, these numbers are truly alarming. The worst part is that nearly 75 percent of these cases are perpetrated by a resident’s own caregiver, making many people feel trapped and scared to reach out to others.

Defining Elderly Abuse and Neglect

Learning the telltale signs of nursing home abuse can help prevent further cases, as well as spread awareness about this issue. The main offenses against nursing home residents include abuse and/or neglect, and any combination of the two.

  • Abuse: Recognized as an intentional infliction of harm, intimidation, unreasonable requests, verbal abuse or the withholding of services as punishment.
  • Neglect: Whether intentional or not, recognized as the failure to provide care or services, resulting in the harm or pain of an individual.

Abuse comes in many forms, affecting people emotionally, physically, and even financially. Individuals with difficulty communicating are at great risk, especially if they don’t have the support of family or their peers.

Signs of Elder Abuse

Regular visits to your loved one’s nursing home are critical. The more frequently you visit, the more likely you’ll become aware of any warning signs, prompting staff members to stay on their toes. Some of the main signs to look for include:

  • Bed injuries / asphyxiation
  • Dehydration
  • Emotionally distressed
  • Greater frequency of falls, fractures, bruises
  • Untreated infections
  • Malnutrition
  • Bed Sores
  • Rapid changes in weight
  • Reluctance to communication with staff members present
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Unclean conditions
  • Sudden, unusual changes in behavior
  • Excessive isolation
  • Heavy medicating or sedation

What Causes Abuse and Neglect?

Neglect is often much more difficult to detect, even though it’s all too common. If you notice a sudden decline in your loved one’s health, it’s possible their needs are being neglected. Less present family members may not pick up on the signs for days, weeks, or even months at a time.

With cases of neglect, it’s possible that you may still be oblivious to what’s occurring. Being critical of the facility, asking questions, and making sure that you have a gauge of the staff personally treating your loved one will really make a difference in preventing further abuse.

Awareness of what factors may allow abuse can also inform your ability to address the issue with your loved one’s facility or caregiver(s). There is no excuse for abuse or neglect, but there are common causes that contribute to its frequency.

Common Triggers 

  • Underpaid employees
  • Poor, or incomplete training
  • Understaffing
  • Dismissive management
  • Overbooked facilities
  • Personal issues of staff members
  • Infrequent communication with family and friends
  • Resident-to-resident abuse

What You Can Do to Prevent Elder Abuse

If you suspect that your loved one is a victim of abuse or neglect, it is best to contact an attorney well versed in elder law to make the next move. Unfortunately, many seniors are either intimidated or physically unable to communicate their abuse to others, so it can be up to you to keep them safe. The more frequently you visit, the better chance you’ll have of noticing abuse, ultimately preventing it from continuing or occurring in the first place. Never be afraid to ask questions, preparing to handle any answers that may come as a result. Together, elderly abuse can be reduced to give our seniors the retirement they deserve.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Will Medicare pay for long-term care services like nursing homes?

For things like rehabilitation that will last no more than 100 days, then it is possible for Medicare to cover the costs. Keep in mind that you must also have had a prior hospital stay of at least three days, and are admitted to a Medicare-certified nursing facility within 30 days of this stay. Medicare will cover 100% of the cost for the first 20 days, however, you’ll have to pick up the cost starting the 21st day.

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If I can't take care of myself, is a nursing home the only option I have?

Although, it’s a better choice for some, nursing homes are not the only type of senior care that can suit someone who needs assistance with day-to-day life. Independent living and assisted living communities provide the flexibility and security of receiving care when needed, while nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities are more for those who need daily assistance or monitoring. Continuing care retirement communities contain all of the various levels of senior care, although they are generally the most expensive option.

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