Nursing home abuse is alarmingly common in the United States. Statistics from the National Ombudsman Reporting System show that in 2014 alone, nearly 189,000 complaints were filed. More than 14,000 of these complaints involved the “abuse, gross neglect, or exploitation” of residents in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Additionally, the National Council on Aging estimates that as many as one in 10 Americans aged 60 or older have experienced some form of elder abuse during their lives.
While the data shows that abuse is widespread, seniors often hesitate to speak up when they are being abused or neglected by their caregivers. Abuse victims often feel embarrassed or ashamed, and may even be worried about facing retaliation if they report the abuse. However, if you suspect that your elderly parent is being abused at his or her nursing home, it’s extremely important to open a dialogue about the mistreatment taking place.
Talking about abuse is difficult and emotional, but it’s a vital first step to ending the abuse and beginning the healing process. The advice below can help you start a discussion with your loved one, so that you can get them out of the dangerous environment and start on the path toward physical and emotional recovery.
Signs of Abuse in Nursing Homes
The first step to discussing abuse is identifying abuse, which is defined as intentionally causing harm to a nursing home resident. However, recognizing the signs of nursing home abuse is not always easy. Though there are many cases where signs of abuse are obvious, such as bite marks or rope burns, there are also many cases where the effects of abuse are subtle, perhaps even invisible.
Depending on the nature of the abuse, which may be physical, sexual, emotional, or financial, the warning signs can manifest as physical injuries, behavioral changes, and/or unusual financial activity. Some common red flags include:
- Acting unusually fearful, skittish, or nervous, especially around staff members
- Cuts, bruises, scratches, or swelling
- Development of bed sores (pressure ulcers)
- Extreme weight loss, fatigue, or weakness, which may indicate intentional deprivation of food, or the abusive overuse of sedative medication
- Frequent falls in the nursing home
- Lack of hygiene and cleanliness
- Loss of interest in hobbies and social activities
- Withdrawing from family and friends
Remain vigilant, listen to your instincts, and do not hesitate to raise your concerns with the nursing home’s management. Do not worry about “annoying” the administrators. You have a right to know exactly how your loved one is being treated.
If a discussion with the facility managers does not totally and completely allay your fears, you should contact a nursing home injury lawyer immediately. An attorney can help you understand what your rights are, and explain what steps you should take to address the problem and resolve the situation.
How to Talk to Your Parent About Nursing Home Abuse
It is never easy to talk about physical, verbal, sexual, or financial abuse. It doesn’t matter what form the abuse took, how long it went on, or the circumstances under which it began: abuse is an extremely sensitive topic, and you should be prepared for a range of reactions from your loved one when you broach the subject. Your loved one may respond with anger or flat denial. They may try to laugh it off, or tell you that you are overreacting. They may seem to “shut down” and ignore you entirely.
The important thing is to remain calm and non-judgmental, no matter how your loved one initially reacts. Even if your family member is furious with you, remember that he or she is in pain and needs your emotional support. It is crucial to make your loved one feel like he or she can always confide in you, no matter what has happened. It is also important to emphasize that, whatever may have happened, it is not your family member’s fault, and he or she should not feel guilty or embarrassed.
Beginning the conversation is often the most difficult part. Many people have trouble deciding whether it is better and more effective to get straight to the point, or to ease into the topic slowly. The truth is, there is no “best” or “perfect” way to start talking about abuse, because every abuse survivor has a different personality and background.
However, one technique is to begin by simply asking your loved one whether he or she needs help, without making a direct reference to abuse or neglect. Once your loved one knows that you’re concerned about his or her wellbeing, he or she may feel relieved and decide to open up voluntarily.
If your loved one does not voluntarily offer information, it may help to offer some information of your own. For example, you can let your loved one know how common abuse is, or explain the different programs that can help with nursing home abuse, such as long-term care ombudsman programs. Once your loved one knows that they are not alone, that abuse can happen to anyone, and that resources are available to them, they may feel more willing and empowered to speak out.
It is very common for elder abuse victims to intentionally mask the abuse because they do not want to “burden” their family members. It’s important to emphasize that you want to help in any way you can, whether that means speaking to the nursing home administrators, filing a formal complaint with your state’s long-term care ombudsman office, hiring an attorney to explore the possibility of suing the nursing home, or all of the above.
Get Legal Help from a Nursing Home Injury Attorney
The elderly deserve to live out their golden years with dignity, in peace and comfort. Sadly, many of our nation’s seniors have the opposite experience in negligent nursing homes, where residents live in constant fear of harassment, deprivation, injury, or even death.
If you suspect that your mother, father, or grandparent is being physically abused, sexually abused, emotionally abused, or financially exploited by his or her caregivers, or by other residents at the nursing home facility, our experienced nursing home abuse lawyers can step in to get help for your family while pursuing compensation and fighting for justice on your loved one’s behalf. Our aggressive, effective legal team has successfully helped numerous families file claims and lawsuits against nursing homes. We are prepared to work hard on your loved one’s behalf.
To set up a free legal consultation about what to do if you suspect nursing home abuse, contact our law firm at (215) 666-7777. We may be able to help your loved one recover financial compensation, and even more importantly, hold the home accountable for the harm it has caused your family.