Nursing Home Abuse vs Neglect

Almost 2 million Americans live in nursing homes and long term care facilities. It is estimated that up to 10% of nursing home residents may suffer from abuse and neglect. According to federal law, nursing home residents have a right to live free of verbal, sexual, physical and mental abuse. Federal law defines nursing home abuse and neglect as two separate things:

Nursing Home Abuse

An intentional cause of injury, confinement beyond reason, intimidation, service and care deprivation or punishment that leads to pain, physical harm or mental anguish. This also can involve financial abuse, although that is more common to occur with family members.

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) states that federal violations alleging abuse have been reported in nearly one out of three nursing homes. Regarding certified nursing assistants (CNAs), the following data has been reported:

  • 23% of CNAs are alleged to have sworn at or insulted a nursing home patient
  • 51% have been reported as yelling at patients
  • 17% have been reported to shove, grab or push a patient

Nursing Home Neglect

A failure, either intentional or unintentional, to provide the person with services and care necessary to ensure the person is free from pain or harm. It also is failure to react appropriately to a dangerous situation that could cause harm or anxiety to the patient. It has been reported that nursing home neglect has been admitted by as many as 50% of nursing home staff in some surveys. In some cases, residents may abuse one another and nothing is done about it.

The signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect are very similar. The challenge is to determine if the signs outlined below were intentional or unintentional. That is the dividing line between abuse and neglect. In either situation, the abuse or neglect should be reported to nursing home administration right away. It also should be reported to the state department of health. If a licensed healthcare professional suspects neglect or abuse, it is required by law to be reported to the appropriate authority.

Risk Factors for Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

The NCEA reports the following risk factors for being a victim of abuse or neglect in a nursing home. If you suspect anything, it is important to investigate to determine if neglect or abuse is occuring:

  • Low social support, such as lack of friends and family
  • Dementia increases risk of abuse and neglect; almost 50% of those with dementia have some type of abuse
  • Women are more likely to be abused than men
  • Younger patients are more likely than older to be abused; adults in their 60s are more likely to be abused than older patients
  • Lower income is associated with more abuse and neglect

Types of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

It is possible to notice abuse or neglect occurring even if the patient does not communicate about it directly. The American Psychological Association points out that abuse or neglect should not be assumed. However, if there is no clear medical reason for the below symptoms and signs, it is important to investigate.

Nursing home abuse and neglect can usually be seen if you observe some of the following red flags over a long period of time. Again, whether it is abuse or neglect boils down to the symptoms being caused intentionally or by accident. Whatever the reason, it must be addressed immediately, and contacting a nursing home abuse and neglect attorney could be in order.

Bad Hygiene

All nursing home staff who have patient contact are expected to help them with basic personal hygiene as needed. Many elderly patients need help with dressing, bathing, teeth brushing, nail clipping, hair combing, etc.

Bad hygiene may be neglect if you observe the nursing home clearly lacks enough staff, or the staff are not properly trained to provide hygiene services. This could be abuse if you observe nursing home workers being negative and difficult with any residents.

Poor Living Conditions

All nursing homes must offer clean and safe living conditions. If the environment in which patients live is unclean, this could be neglect or abuse. You should always check that your loved one has on clean clothes and the bed is clean. Both should be changed daily. If you see the patient in the same clothes and bedding for a week, this is a major red flag that abuse or neglect is occurring.

Poor Nutrition

Neglect and abuse can lead to serious physical problems including malnutrition and dehydration. In most cases, this is caused by neglect by understaffing or poor training. It also can be due to high staff turnover. As nursing home staff are brought in to replace previous workers, it is possible that some details can fall through the cracks, leading to patients not getting regular food and water.

On the other hand, there are abuse situations where the patient is purposely denied food and water. In either situation, this is extremely serious; it is essential that elderly people receive a good diet and plenty of water so their health situation does not decline.

Injuries

Most people assume that unexplained injuries on a nursing home patient are always abuse, but this is not necessarily the case. Injuries such as cuts, scrapes, bruises and even broken bones can be due to either neglect or abuse. If the nursing home is understaffed, the patient may attempt to do things on her own that lead to injury. Or, the patient could actually be suffering abuse by an angry, abusive and short tempered staff member.

The CDC reports that as many as 1800 seniors in nursing homes die from fall related injuries annually. These incidents are usually due to simple neglect.

Psychological Trauma

Neglect and abuse can take a heavy mental and emotional toll for patients in nursing homes. In an abuse situation, the patient may seem frightened of the caregiver and afraid to talk about any problems with her care. The patient also could seem more distant from friends and family. They also can suffer from depression due to either abuse or neglect.

When To Take Action and How

Nursing home abuse and neglect are extremely serious. If you suspect any of the above red flags, bring it immediately to the attention of nursing home leadership. Also, file a report with your state’s department of health about the alleged abuse or neglect. The state will be required to follow up and ensure the situation is being resolved.

Last, consider talking to a nursing home abuse and neglect attorney. If your loved one has suffered undue pain and suffering, both of your could be entitled to financial compensation.

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