Abuse of the elderly is a growing problem as increasing numbers of people reach their senior years. Many will require placement in residential or skilled nursing facilities as they become unable to care for themselves. Our elders need to spend their later years in safety and comfort, not in fear or deprivation.
Recognizing the signs of nursing home abuse or neglect helps ensure your loved ones won’t experience those things.
There are four basic types of nursing home abuse, and include:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse
Neglect, while not strictly abuse, is the absence of care or attention that should be provided to the resident and can be just as, if not more, harmful.
Physical abuse is the type of abuse most often reported. It occurs when a caregiver inappropriately touches or strikes someone in his or her care. This can be pinching, kicking, biting, hair pulling, hitting or under or over-medicating the resident. The disabled are at the greatest risk and the risk is equal between male and female residents. Signs of physical abuse can be sores, welts, or bruising, broken bones, scratches, or bite marks. A loved one who is lethargic or unresponsive may be overmedicated or may suffer in need of an unreceived treatment for a behavioral or physical condition.
Emotional abuse can cause mental suffering in a vulnerable resident. A caregiver who screams, curses, or threatens a resident can cause fear and depression in those dependent on them for care. Isolating, restraining, refusing to speak to a resident or allow them access to news, phone calls, or interaction with others may be emotional abuse. A resident who was interactive and social who becomes quiet and withdrawn may be fearful of further abuse.
Sexual abuse is often driven by a need to control and dominate. Frail, elderly or disabled men and women are at risk of abuse from sexual predators because of their inability to protect themselves. Signs of sexual abuse can be injury around the genital area, the diagnosis of sexually transmitted diseases or discomfort in the buttock or genital area. It can be forced sexual contact, manipulating a mentally disabled person into sexual behaviors or the making of inappropriate comments of a sexual nature.
Financial abuse is the misappropriation of a resident’s belongings, money or inappropriately accessing bank accounts. A caregiver who solicits tips or compensation in addition to his or her pay may be guilty of financial abuse. Billing for care that was not provided can be a form of fraud and financial abuse.
Neglect is the failure to provide care or keep a resident safe from harm. It can be physical neglect or emotional neglect. Dehydration, malnutrition, weight loss, poor hygiene, unsafe or unclean surroundings, lack of social opportunities and stimulation can all be signs of neglect. Failure to treat a decline in medical condition can be neglect or medical malpractice.
Nursing home personnel should be screened for a background of abuse and trained in abuse prevention and how to care for residents with behavior disturbances. But this is not a guarantee that abuse will not occur. Staff who are impatient or unable to depersonalize the behaviors and understand why they occur are at risk of abusing the behavioral resident.