We all expect our loved ones to be cared for by professionals within a nursing home. Most facilities go to great lengths to give the image of a warm, loving environment staffed by trained medical professionals where residents play games, interact with others and live well. While that might be the case for a handful of facilities, the truth for most is far less benign. In fact, up to one-third of all nursing homes in the US have experienced elder abuse lawsuits as a result of the actions of staff members and caregivers. It’s a frightening situation and one that is not improving very quickly. If you have a loved one within a nursing home, it is important to know more about elder abuse and what to look for to protect him or her.
What Is Elder Abuse?
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) defines elder abuse as “the intentional use of physical force that results in acute or chronic illness, bodily injury, physical pain, functional impairment, distress or death. Physical abuse may include, but is not limited to, violent acts such as striking (with or without an object or weapon), hitting, beating, scratching, biting, choking, suffocation, pushing, shoving, shaking, slapping, kicking, stomping, pinching and burning.”
How Common Is Physical Abuse in US Nursing Homes?
The actual incidence of physical abuse in US nursing homes is not known. This is due to some factors. For instance, many cases simply are not reported. Either the family of the individual does not notice the signs of abuse, the individual has no one to report the situation, or the individual attempts to hide the abuse out of shame, embarrassment or fear of reprisals. However, according to the National Elder Mistreatment Study, up to 10% of nursing home residents in the US experience some abuse from staff members. As early as 2001, almost 30% of nursing homes in the US had been named in elder abuse lawsuits.
How to Identify Physical Abuse
Identifying physical abuse of the elderly can be difficult for some reasons. For instance, elderly individuals are prone to fall accidents, which can often result in injuries that appear to stem from physical abuse, including bruising, cuts, and broken bones. However, it is vital that you know the signs to watch for that might indicate your loved one is physically abused by a nursing home staff member. These can include:
- Bruises: Watch for bruising or other marks around the wrists, arms, and neck, as these can indicate abuse from caregivers within the facility.
- Restraint Marks: Watch for marks left by belts, or rope on the individual’s wrists, hands and ankles. This can indicate that restraints are being used to abuse your loved one.
- Unexplained Injuries: Any injury can be the result of physical abuse. The best way to identify potential signs is if your loved one cannot give you a good explanation for them, or they repeatedly use the same or similar explanation (they repeatedly fall, for instance).
- They’re Dismissive: If your loved one or the staff at the facility are dismissive about the injuries, or seem not to care, this can be a sign that abuse is going on.
- No Solo Visitation: If the caregiver refuses to allow you to visit with your loved one alone, you should suspect some abuse is going on.
- Statements: While some elderly residents attempt to hide signs of abuse, others are vocal about it. Always treat any statements about being hit, kicked, restrained or otherwise physically abused seriously.
Be alert and wary. Understand that no facility is completely safe from the threat of physical abuse to the residents. By keeping an eye open, you will be able to spot signs of physical elder abuse quickly, and take the appropriate action.
Taking Action about Physical Abuse
If you suspect that your loved one is experiencing physical abuse at a nursing home, it is crucial that you report it to your state’s elder abuse hotline. You should also consult with an elder abuse attorney to determine what you should do next.