Elder abuse is becoming a bigger problem in the United States for a multitude of reasons, and people are more aware of the issue. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports in 2014, over 2 million people resided in a nursing home or residential care community. During that year, about 188,000 complaints were made to a national reporting system. About 8 percent of the complaints involved abuse or gross neglect.
Many government agencies are attempting to be more consistent in defining abuse. It is not only physical abuse that is a problem. Financial abuse, sexual abuse and neglect affect the health of a senior, even when that person might not be fully aware of the situation. A person who has a loved one in a nursing home should watch for these signs of abuse:
- Sudden weight loss
- Bruising and minor injuries on the skin
- Hygiene problems that could have prevented had the staff been providing timely care
- Falls and fractures
- Change of demeanor
- Distrust of staff members
Nursing home abuse is complex, because many of these problems occur in seniors naturally. A person who is bedridden could easily get a bedsore or sit in urine if the staff gets busy with another situation. The staff might be overworked or it could be a choice to neglect the person. Many older people lose weight and fall. With dementia, a person could become more paranoid about the staff without neglect or abuse.
Preventing nursing home abuse
Research clearly demonstrates that nursing home patients who are connected to the community outside of the nursing home are far less likely to experience abuse and neglect within the home. It does take a combined effort to keep loved ones safe, even in what should be a safe environment. Family members should look at the equipment in the nursing home. Is the mattress of the bed flush against the side rails to prevent injuries? Does the staff quickly clean up messes? How is the loved one monitored for changes in mental ability? Through effective communication with the staff, they can be more aware of the signs of abuse.
However, if nursing home abuse has occurred, family members of victims do need to take action by gathering information about the abuse and discussing the situation with an experienced attorney. In some cases, the authorities might need to be notified, depending on the type of abuse which has occurred. The case could involve legal and medical issues, and when the victim has a disease or condition that renders the person unable to participate in the defense, he or she needs an advocate .