Nursing home abuse – warning signs and solutions

Nursing home abuse – warning signs and solutions


Sending a parent or grandparent to a nursing home is always a bittersweet experience for the family. On the one hand, you feel more relaxed and reassured that they are well cared for and supervised by professionals. On the other hand, having them move out and seeing them only occasionally can be emotionally devastating. Things do not get any easier knowing that in many supposedly trustworthy American nursing homes the living conditions are below standard and that the staff there display a consistent pattern of neglect and abuse towards the elderly.

Having a relative in a nursing home requires a considerable monthly fee and in exchange for this you should expect the best treatment for your loved one. They should have all the amenities of a modern lifestyle and, at the same time, get constant supervision and attention from their caregivers. They should be helped to take their medicine, get involved in social activities and, if they have a serious condition, qualified personnel should look after them 24/7. However, this doesn’t always happen and families who pay great amounts of money discover that their loved ones are being hurt and neglected, to the point where their health and even life is at stake.

What is nursing home abuse?

Nursing home abuse occurs when the staff in a nursing home mistreats the elderly people living there, both physically and emotionally. One of the biggest misconceptions is that “abuse” means only physical violence, but the term is much broader than that and actually covers a wide spectrum of unethical behaviors. These behaviors should be well known in order to identify the problem as soon as possible and take legal action to stop it.

  • Physical abuse occurs when the elderly is physically hurt by the caregiver. The most common cases of physical abuse involve slapping, pinching, force feeding, pushing or even punching nursing home residents. These actions are extremely dangerous and inexcusable, no matter the reason invoked. Many caregivers say that they have to resort to physical harm because a resident is being violent or refuses to take the medication, but that is not the way to solve such an issue.
  • Sexual abuse occurs when an elderly person in a nursing home is involved in sexual relations with a staff member without their consent or without their knowledge (in the case of patients with mental illnesses who are not aware of reality).
  • Financial abuse occurs when the patient is being denied access to certain amenities unless they pay the staff extra money, despite the fact that they already pay for them.
  • Emotional abuse is the most difficult to identity and prove, but that doesn’t mean it is less harmful than the other types of abuse above. When a patient is emotionally abused, he/she is being yelled at, disrespected, offended and treated in humiliating ways. This can lead to depression, low self-esteem and even personality changes.
  • Neglect in nursing homes may not seem that dangerous but indirectly, it can cause a great deal of physical and emotional damage. If the elderly are neglected, not only can they hurt themselves by accident, but also feel sad and lonely.

How widespread is this phenomenon?

In the United States, more than 3 million elders live in long term care facilities and statistics show that a considerable percentage are indeed well cared for in these places. However, nursing home abuse is a widespread issue. Every year, one in six elderly people are abused in nursing homes and one in three nursing homes has been cited in abuse case. As a whole, 45% of nursing home residents have reported being abused at one point.

How to tell if your loved one is being abused or neglected

One half of nursing home residents being abused is no small percentage, so many families are wondering why authorities are so unaware of this situation. In fact, even the U.S. General Accountability Office admitted that inspectors often miss signs of abuse in nursing homes, mostly because the staff display a professional attitude during inspections and residents are afraid of giving negative feedback when asked about their experience.

This leads to a very interesting problem. Despite the existence of harsh penalties against nursing home abuse, many go unpunished because the residents will not speak up and decide to suffer in silence. Therefore, if someone you know is in a nursing home and tells you that he/she is treated fairly, that might not be true. They might be too ashamed to talk about it, maybe they were threatened by the staff or they simply don’t want to cause any trouble. So, you will have to look out for these signs:

  • Bruising, cuts and other clear marks of physical violence
  • Poor hygiene and dirty clothes
  • Weight loss that is not related to an existing condition
  • Signs of dehydration or malnutrition
  • Mood swings, crying without telling you why, refusal to talk about how they are feeling
  • Personality changes
  • The staff never lets you be completely alone with your relative during visits

One or more of these signs is not a clear indicator of abuse, it should raise questions and require some in-depth investigation. One method of clearing all doubt is to talk to your local office about opening an investigation, but most people find this procedure too bureaucratic and complicated and simply use a hidden camera or microphone.  

Taking action against nursing home abuse

If you have proof that your loved one has been neglected or abused in any way, you should take legal action immediately, no matter how hard they try to convince you not to do so. This will end the abuse and also stop the nursing home from mistreating other patients. Companies like provide step-by-step assistance for personal injury cases involving nursing home abuse, helping elders and their families receive financial compensation.

It’s essential to initiate the process as soon as you find out about the abuse in order for your claim to be successful. You will of course need proof and there is a chance of your case being taken to court, but a professional attorney will deal with that. At the end, you should receive money to cover for the medical and psychological therapies, as well as the rest of the damages sustained. Until the results arrive, you should make sure your relative benefits from top notch counselling and is able to recover in a loving and peaceful environment.