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Signs of Nursing Home Neglect

Our elderly loved ones are precious and deserve to safely live out their remaining years with comfort, dignity, and respect. Often their medical needs eventually go beyond what family members can safely address at home, so their loved ones spend time and money finding the best nursing home facilities within their budget, trusting that their elderly loved one will receive the care that’s promised. Sadly, all too often a family’s level of trust plummets when they begin to notice disturbing signs of neglect, stolen property, and sometimes indications of abuse. There are over 2 million reports of elder abuse per year in the United States and over 40% of nursing home residents report neglect while untold numbers of neglect cases likely go unreported. Even more staggering, over half of nursing home attendants in a 2010 report admitted to committing forms of neglect and abuse against the vulnerable residents in their care.

Our elderly loved ones become as vulnerable as children in the last stages of their lives, yet they deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect of adults with many years of life experience behind them. While many cases of nursing home neglect lead to the successful recovery of economic and non-economic damages in lawsuits, that cannot undo the trauma and harm committed against beloved elderly family members who experience the neglect of their basic human needs.

Signs of Nursing Home Neglect

What Is Nursing Home Neglect?

According to the CDC, nursing home neglect occurs when caretakers in a nursing home or elder-care facility “fail to meet a resident’s basic needs, including food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and essential medical care.” 

Neglect in nursing homes most commonly results from inadequate staffing, over-extended staff members, and poorly trained staff due to high employee turnover rates. Understaffing may result from a lack of qualified applicants, but all too often it stems from facility managers seeking to maximize profits by reducing staffing costs. Over 70% of nursing homes in the U.S. are for-profit, privately-owned facilities. Understaffed facilities result in over-extended, fatigued staff members who are more likely to neglect the basic needs of residents in the following ways:

  • Making medical errors or failing to administer medications
  • Allowing accidents to occur to vulnerable elderly patients who lack adequate supervision
  • Allowing residents to suffer from dehydration and malnutrition
  • Failing to prevent bedsore development and infection
  • Neglecting basic hygiene and room cleanliness
  • Dropping patients or allowing patients to fall due to a single caregiver attempting a move that requires two or more staff members
  • Stealing medication meant to ease the pain of residents in palliative care

All of the above are examples of both unintentional and intentional neglect that can result in great harm or even death to vulnerable elderly residents.

Why Do So Many Neglect and Abuse Cases in Nursing Homes Remain Unreported?

Research indicates that only a small percentage of nursing home abuse cases are identified, reported, and addressed. Many more remain unreported and elderly loved ones suffer in silence. The elderly are a demographic that’s the least likely to report their situation of neglect or abuse due to the following reasons:

  • Elderly residents may not be able to communicate effectively
  • Many elderly nursing home residents have a degree of dementia or severe dementia
  • Some residents fear retaliation by the staff members if they report their circumstances and treatment
  • A sense of helplessness and dependency may make them rationalize or justify their treatment because they feel as though they are a burden to caregivers
  • An elderly resident may feel ashamed of the indignity of their treatment and wish to hide it from loved ones

No matter the reason an elderly resident cannot or will not speak out against mistreatment, nursing home facilities must be held accountable when they fail in their duty to provide quality care to dependent elderly residents.

How Do I Recognize the Signs of Nursing Home Neglect?

Not all nursing home residents can adequately articulate experiences of neglect or abuse to visiting family members due to speech aphasia and/or dementia. Some may not be aware of what is happening to them. Defenseless elderly family members may depend on your alertness to their condition and your response to common signs of nursing home neglect including:

  • Dehydration, with visible signs of dry skin, skin on the back of the hands that will not quickly rebound after a gentle pinch, sunken eyes, and dry, cracked lips
  • Bedsores (pressure wounds)
  • Fractures
  • Bruises
  • Signs of malnutrition such as weight loss, hair loss, weakness, disorientation, and bony protuberances
  • Poor personal hygiene and unclean room and bedding
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Untreated medical and/or dental problems
  • Personality changes
  • Reluctance to speak in front of staff members
  • Exhibiting signs of heavy sedation or over-medication

If your loved one shows any of the above warning signs it’s essential to act quickly.

What to Do If You Suspect Your Elderly Loved One Has Experienced Neglect in a Nursing Home

All elderly residents in nursing homes deserve quality care. Sadly, a staggering number of elderly nursing home residents don’t have their most basic needs adequately met, and for some residents, the neglect can lead to life-threatening complications, swift declines, and death.

If you suspect an elderly family member or friend has been neglected in their nursing home facility you should act fast, but without losing your temper. Instead, calmly and rationally take the following steps:

  • Speak to the loved one without the presence of staff members and ask them specific, pointed questions about their daily care
  • Speak to the staff members to address your concerns. If they lack adequate explanations or refuse to answer your questions satisfactorily, then move forward into a more formal investigation
  • Report the neglect to the police in the home’s jurisdiction if a loved one is in imminent danger
  • Contact the National Center for Elder Abuse for information on how to report neglect within your state
  • Demand accountability by contacting a lawyer who specializes in the area of nursing home abuse/neglect claims so they can aid you in the proper steps in protecting your loved one and filing a claim for compensation

By taking swift, corrective action to protect your elderly family member and to hold the nursing home facility accountable, you can help put a stop to the behavior and protect not only your loved one but also other elderly residents in the facility. Contact a Knapp & Roberts Phoenix elder abuse attorney to schedule a free consultation.

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