How to Recognize Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect


Article provided by Aiken & Scoptur, S.C. Please visit our Web site at Aiken & Scoptur, S.C.

As our population ages, we are becoming more and more dependant on skilled nursing facilities to take care of our parents. We hope we make a wise choice, but nursing homes aren't always what they appear to be when we "take the tour."

Many facilities that we think are safe and clean are not. Each year, nursing homes in Wisconsin are inspected and citations are issued, many as a result of neglect and abuse.

Types of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

What are some types of abuse you need to look for?

  • Physical abuse: physical abuse by staff or resident-on-resident abuse
  • Emotional abuse: isolation, overmedication, threats and harassment.
  • Sexual abuse: rape by staff and residents
  • Neglect: dehydration, malnutrition, falls, broken bones, pressure sores

What Should We Look For?

Nursing home residents may be reluctant to report incidents of abuse and neglect, mostly because they are afraid or confused. That's why it's important to keep an eye out for warning signs.

Physical abuse and neglect are typically the most apparent nursing home injuries. You need to be on the lookout for unusual bruising, unexplained falls and broken bones, unusual weight loss and open areas of the skin. Many elderly residents lack the ability to turn themselves and relieve pressure to their calves, heels and buttocks. You need to be aware that pressure sores can develop and check for signs when you visit. Once they start, pressure sores often don't get proper treatment and they can become stage IV sores very quickly.

Falls are another problem. Many nursing homes lack appropriate staffing to assist with transferring and walking residents. The owners often try to cut corners with the budget in order to be more profitable, so the first place they cut is staffing. Because of that, residents don't get the assistance they need and this can result in falls and broken hips. Make sure you know what type of assistance is required and what type is actually being given.

Sexual abuse is uncommon but not unheard of. Signs include bruises or open skin around the breasts or genital area; underwear that is bloody, torn or stained; or a sexually transmitted disease. Residents with Alzheimer's disease are unusually susceptible to sexual abuse, as they are confused and unable to really understand what is happening.

Neglect. In addition to falls and pressure sores, discussed above, malnutrition and dehydration can cause significant problems and actually lead to the development of pressure sores. Keep an eye out for unusual weight loss. If your loved one loses more than 5% of his or her body weight, that is a sign of malnutrition.

Ask what is spent for food per resident per day. You might be in for a surprise. Some facilities spend $3.00 or less per day per resident for food. That is about what a Big Mac, fries and a soda cost. That is hardly enough nutrition for a resident.

Dehydration can also lead to decreased mental status, poor skin condition and kidney failure.

Don't hesitate to look at the nursing home chart to make sure your loved one is getting all the food, nutrition and supplements they need.

What You Can Do

Be an advocate, ask questions and check out the facility with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. It keeps records as to each facility, including how many times a facility has been cited and for what. If you suspect abuse or neglect, contact the department and file a complaint. It is obligated by law to come out and inspect the facility. Talk to an attorney. Oftentimes, that is the only way that nursing homes can be held accountable for abuse and neglect.