Watch for the signs of neglect or abusive treatment. The National Center for Elder Abuse (NCEA) believes that nursing home neglect and abuse is underreported and that research is lagging on the prevalence, the effects and prevention strategies.
The problem will only get bigger as the elderly population continues to grow. By 2030, there will be 70 million Americans over the age of 65, including 8 million who are 85 or older. More than 40 percent of senior citizens enter nursing home care at some point. Seniors with disabilities or dementia are especially at risk for physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse
Without Intervention, elder abuse could become an epidemic
The NCEA reports that about 8 percent of the complaints about nursing homes received by long-term care ombudsmen relate to abuse, gross neglect or exploitation. Nearly 1 in 3 nursing homes are cited each year for violations of federal standards. In a 2010 study, more than half of nursing home staff admitted to mistreating patients through neglect, mental and verbal abuse or physical violence.
NCEA officials say that research on elder abuse lags as much as two decades behind similar research on domestic violence and child abuse. This gap will be magnified as the elderly population rapidly rises – the over-65 population is projected to nearly double by 2050. There are already concerns about how the elder care system will absorb that many people and how nursing homes will fill all those caregiver jobs.
Be proactive in your loved one’s care
The NCEA recognizes social support as the most effective prevention and intervention tools. One of the best ways to avoid nursing home neglect or abuse is visit regularly and talk to the staff members who are caring for your loved one.
Be watchful for these signs of neglect:
- Emotional changes, becoming uncommunicative or withdrawn
- Physical changes, such as bruises, skin ulcers or skin tears
- Evasive staff who will not answer questions about the care they are giving the patient
- Staff members who always seem to be frantic or to have bad attitudes
- Leadership closed away in the office rather than being readily available
- A high staff turnover
- A particular staff member your loved one appears uncomfortable around
- Unanswered call buttons or ringing phones
It should be noted that these are possible indicators of poor nursing home care, not necessarily proof. Sometimes, the staff might be stretched thin through no fault of the nursing home. Elderly patients bruise easily and are prone to falls.
If you do suspect abuse, you may want to document what you see that raises your suspicions. Take pictures and make notes to have evidence in case you do need to pursue it through the legal system. Talking to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer can help you put together a case to make sure your loved one is taken care or if they are experiencing neglect. Nursing home malpractice is a complex issue, both medically and legally, and you owe it to your elderly loved ones to stay vigilant and be their advocate.