How to Recognize Nursing Home Abuse

Advice and Help : How to Recognize Nursing Home Abuse

By Amber Paley

If you have a parent or relative in a nursing home or assisted living facility the thought has probably crossed your mind - could my loved one become a victim of abuse, and if she was, how would I know? Nursing home abuse is becoming far too prevalent; various sources state that 1 in 4 nursing homes are reported every year as being responsible for a resident’s injuries or death.  Given the problem and the growing nursing home population as the Baby Boomer generation filters into homes, we all need to know how to recognize the signs of elder abuse in nursing homes.


Understand the Problem
Nursing home abuse takes place for a number of reasons, but one cause, understaffing, seems to be at the root of all of the other causes of nursing home abuse.
Nearly 90 percent of nursing homes are short staffed.  Understaffing leads to:

- Undertraining.Because there are not enough staff members to complete the necessary daily tasks, staff members must perform duties they have not be trained to perform.  The results of this are neglect in the form of mistakes in care.
- Unhappy Staff Members.

Staff members are expected to:
- Work too many hours.
- Complete too many tasks.
- Work for low wages.


Because of this, staff members are stressed, exhausted, and have low morale.  The results of this are neglect and abuse in the form of a loss of respect and sympathy for residents as well as the increased likelihood of intentional abuse.



Insufficient patient care.
The government and experts recommend that nursing home residents receive an average of about 4 hours of care daily.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found in 2000 that the average nursing home resident received less than 3 hours of total staff care daily; this is well below the recommendations of experts. The results of this are neglect in the form of false charting, under-medication and unnecessary or accidental overmedication, and staff error because staff members simply do not and cannot spend the necessary time with residents.

Know the Abuse Types and Symptoms
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, there are 5 common abuse forms that the elderly may endure:

- “Physical abuse is defined as the use of physical force that may result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment.” Its symptoms include, “Slap marks, unexplained bruises, most pressure marks, and certain types of burns or blisters, such as cigarette burns.”
- “Sexual abuse is defined as non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an elderly person.”  Its symptoms include, “Bruises around the breasts or genital area and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases.”
- “Emotional or psychological abuse is defined as the infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts. “  Its symptoms include, “Withdrawal from normal activities, unexplained changes in alertness, or other unusual behavioral changes.”
“Neglect is defined as the refusal or failure to fulfill any part of a person's obligations or duties to an elder.”  Its symptoms include, “Pressure ulcers, filth, lack of medical care, malnutrition or dehydration.”
- “Financial or material exploitation is defined as the illegal or improper use of an elder's funds, property, or assets.”  Its symptoms include, “Sudden change[s] in finances and accounts, altered wills and trusts, unusual bank withdrawals, checks written as “loans” or “gifts,” and loss of property.”

Know Residents’ Rights
Though perhaps not considered a common form of abuse, violation of rights is an abuse that the elderly sustain.  The following is a very general list of the rights nursing home resident have, with the top ones being the rights most commonly abused.  Residents have the right to:

- Good Health:
Meaning that residents have the right to quality health care and to make decisions regarding their health.
- Make Choices:
Regarding health, everyday, financial, and personal decisions.
- Be Treated with Respect:
By being treated humanely, e.g. free of abuse and coerced seclusion.
- Be informed:
Of their home’s costs, deficiency information about their home, changes to their living arrangements, their health status, and about protection agencies.
- File Complaints:
With the home, state agencies, or advocate groups.
- Privacy:
Regarding their health, personal, and financial matters as well as when they have visitors.

Amber Paley is a guest post and article writer bringing to us information on how to recognize the signs of elder abuse. Amber spends much of her professional life writing about abuse in nursing homes at