Detecting Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes

01. November 2017 Safety 0
Detecting Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes

Signs Your Aging Parent Is Suffering From Elder Abuse In Their Nursing Home


Elder abuse is something no one likes to talk about. The idea that your vulnerable, sick or elderly loved one is being taken advantage of, or physically hurt can be unbearable. Unfortunately, it happens. It can happen to anyone, anywhere.


Just because you hired a really great caregiver or put your parent in a wonderful nursing home or assisted living facility doesn’t mean they are totally safe from elder abuse. Elder Abuse can be committed by family members, neighbors, or staff. That being said, if you know what to watch for, you can hopefully catch elder abuse before it happens, or at least very early.


I’ve shared information in the past on general elder abuse, which can happen to an aging parent living at home alone. Unfortunately, your loved one can also experience elder abuse in a nursing home. The signs may be a bit different and the type of abuse can be different but abuse is abuse.



Elder Abuse Signs in Nursing Homes

There are various types of elder abuse that can happen in nursing homes, outside of physical abuse. Elder Abuse in nursing home may not be outright physical, but rather neglect or emotional mistreatment.


If you notice any of these issues, speak to someone in charge. Also know that many states have laws against nursing home neglect so if you are concerned, reach out to your local law enforcement.


  • Medical Mismanagement: Be aware of improper medication doses or missed medication doses. Depending on the type of medication, this can be incredibly dangerous.


  • Lack of Proper Care: If your aging parent has mobility issues or isn’t ambulatory, they may need assistance being moved so that they don’t get bedsores or suffer from other health problems. If they are not being repositioned or moved at regular intervals, it is negligence.


  • Isolation: If the staff punishes a resident by removing him/her from other residents or doesn’t socialize with a resident, this is negligence.


  • Malnutrition or Dehydration: Some residents may struggle with feeding themselves due to arthritis or other health challenges. In that situation, the staff should be ensuring that they are still getting proper nutrition, not just leaving them to their own devices.


  • Unclean Environment: Is your aging parent’s room unclean or are parts of the facility unclean? Are they wearing soiled clothes or sleeping on dirty sheets? That is neglect.


  • Physical Signs: Physical changes to your loved one’s appearance such as bruising, weight loss or bed sores can indicate neglect and elder abuse.


  • Lack of Staffing: If a nursing home doesn’t have enough staff, it can lead to poor or improper care of your loved one. For example, if your loved one needs to use the restroom but needs assistance, if there is not enough staff, your loved one may have an accident while waiting for assistance. Another issue that arises if there is low staffing at mealtime. If there isn’t enough staff to help those residents who can’t feed themselves, your loved one may not get enough food or water.


  • Emotional Abuse: If nursing home staff display emotional abuse, they should be reported immediately. Emotional abuse is elder abuse. Some common forms of emotional abuse include shouting, threats to harm a resident, name calling or ridiculing, talking to (or treating) a patient like he/she is a child, embarrassing the resident or treating them with a callous attitude. By contrast, behaviors such as ignoring a resident or isolating a person are also forms of emotional abuse.



Spotting Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes

Now that you know the types of elder abuse that can happen in a nursing home, here are some tips for spotting it, or ensuring that it isn’t happening to your loved one.


  • Visit at different times. If you can, visit your loved one at different times of day. Staff changes throughout the day and there may be different staff in the dining room versus on their floor, so visiting at different times in different locations gives you an opportunity to get to know everyone. If you can’t drop in at different times, enlist someone you trust to drop in on your behalf.


  • Visit at mealtimes. While I recommend visiting at different times of day, I highly recommend popping in at mealtimes to see how mealtimes are handled. Is there enough staff to help distribute meals? How are meals for those with physical challenges handled? Does the dining hall staff treat all of the residents respectfully? Is your parent receiving the type of treatment you would expect for yourself? These are all important things to watch for.


  • Speak with the staff regularly. You can tell a lot about a person by talking to him/her. Does the staff person sound put off by his/her job? Do they talk poorly about other residents (if they do it about others, they may do it about your loved one)? Is the person always unhappy, frustrated? He or she may be burned out, but if you speak with staff regularly, you may be able to detect a pattern. Also know that the way they talk about others is indicative of how they may talk about your parent with others.


  • Do thorough checks. When you visit, check your loved one for physical injuries or signs of neglect. People in nursing homes tend to fall more often than those who don’t live in nursing homes so if your loved one is falling frequently, try to figure out why. Is staff not assisting them because they are too busy? You should also take a look at your loved one’s clothing. Are they wearing clean clothes? Is the closet dirty? How does the room look? Is it dirty or unkempt? These can all be signs of lack of care.


  • Note your loved one’s behavior. Is your loved one scared or anxious around certain staff members? Or, has your loved one’s overall behavior changed? Perhaps he or she is showing signs of depression or anxiety as a result of elder abuse.


  • Note odd behavior on the part of the nursing home staff or your loved one. Does a staff member hover, or do they seem to not want to leave you alone with your loved one? Perhaps your loved one acts strangely around a staff member. These can be signs that something odd is happening between them.


  • Visit other parts of the nursing home. Perhaps your loved one is in one wing now, but may need to move to another area as his or her condition changes. Check out other parts of the nursing home, not just where your loved one resides. How do the residents look? Do they appear to be well cared for? How does the staff act with the residents? Are they respectful? They may act differently in your presence since it isn’t your family member.


Moving a loved one to an assisted living facility or nursing home is emotional and stressful. Unfortunately, just because you are no longer their primary caregiver doesn’t mean your “job” is done. The more involved you are in your loved one’s life in their new home, the less likely it is that someone will take advantage of them since they know you are around.


That being said, if there is someone in the facility who doesn’t have local or involved family, do an act of kindness and check in on him/her too. It won’t take too much extra time out of your day to swing by when visiting your loved one but it can make a huge impact on their life.



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