Elder abuse is not always outwardly visible
People are more aware these days of the symptoms of nursing home abuse and neglect. If a loved one exhibited bruises, bedsores or other injuries, you would probably question him or her as well as the nursing home staff.
Sometimes elder abuse is not so apparent. Family members play an important role in ensuring the safety and well-being of their loved ones in a nursing home. When you visit, be vigilant for the subtle signs that something's not right.
Pay attention and know what to watch for
It's difficult to know whether the "red flags" for nursing home abuse or neglect are simply due to health issues or natural aging. You need to take the whole situation into context before making any accusations. But trust your instincts. Is your loved one suddenly different? Is there a pattern? Do staff members hover when you visit, or discourage visits?
Here are some overlooked or less noticeable signs of nursing home abuse or neglect:
- Changes in personal hygiene or appearance
- Changes in friendliness and interaction with other residents or staff members
- Withdrawn behavior, especially if this is unusual for your loved one
- Flinching or a new fear of being touched
- A reluctance to speak in front of staff
- Sleeping more than normal
- Injuries or illness that were not reported to the family
- Hazards in the room: rickety furniture, poor lighting, unsafe equipment
Injuries are not always due to abuse. Neglect can occur when the nursing home is understaffed. It may not be intentional, but the nursing home should be held accountable for substandard care. Many elderly patients are prone to falls, which leads to bruises and broken bones. But when you entrust a loved one to the staff of a nursing home, you are right to expect that certain standards be met.
Prevent elder abuse through visitation
Malnutrition and dehydration are often easily identifiable, but the reason your loved one is not eating or drinking may not be evident. Patients who cannot communicate are vulnerable to neglect because they cannot make their needs known. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that a social support network for all elderly patients is key to preventing elder abuse and neglect. Friends and family build mental health resilience in at-risk patients.
If you suspect your loved one is being neglected or abused, an attorney can evaluate your case to find options for holding the nursing home accountable. Vulnerable elders should not come to harm in the very facility where they are expected to have proper supervision, medical care and assistance.