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How common is elder abuse in nursing homes?

Those of us with elderly loved ones in nursing homes or long-term care facilities want the best services money can buy. But the cost of quality elder care is high, and given what the average resident and their family can afford, it's natural to wonder whether our parents, grandparents or other residents of nursing homes are getting everything they need to thrive.

Unfortunately, stories of nursing home abuse or neglect are all too common, leaving us to wonder if our loved ones are at risk. What are the warning signs? What questions should you be asking, and of whom?

To get a handle on whether someone is at risk, you should be aware of some basic facts and trends:

Elderly women are abused at a higher rate than their male counterparts. And the older a person is, the more likely he or she is suffer from abuse or neglect.

Victims may not report incidents of elder abuse, for a number of reasons. They may not have the cognitive ability if they suffer from dementia or memory loss. Or they might fear retaliation from their abuser. The victim may also be reluctant to get their abuser in trouble. This is more common when the caregiver is a relative, but can also happen in a facility.

Elder abuse can take many different forms. Physical and emotional abuse are among them, but neglect or abandonment are also common. Nursing home workers may fail to provide even the most basic needs such as food, water, clothing, personal hygiene or medicine. Financial exploitation is yet another form of abuse, in which caregivers may attempt to steal or improperly use the resident's assets or property.

It's difficult to determine just how common elder abuse is in nursing homes, in part because it often goes unreported. One study that surveyed 2,000 nursing home residents found that 44 percent reported being abused. Even worse, a staggering 95 percent reported being neglected or seeing other residents suffer from neglect.

Even if a nursing home resident isn't reporting abuse or neglect, relatives and other loved ones should keep an eye out for indicators:

  • Injuries caused by excessive restraint, such as bruising or marks on the skin
  • Reports or injuries from unsupervised wandering, falling out of bed or walking without necessary assistance
  • Symptoms of dehydration or malnutrition
  • Evidence of medication errors

Anyone who recognizes these signs or symptoms should not hesitate to investigate further. If contacting the facility's ombudsman fails to yield results, an attorney who focuses on elder abuse can offer a case evaluation and take the necessary next steps to ensure your loved one is properly protected and compensated.

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