Right now, there are about 1.5 million people living in nursing homes in the US. Most people believe that only people over the age of 65 live in nursing homes. In some cases, a nursing home may have all elderly residents, and about 5% of the over-65 population are in a home at any given time.
But the truth is that about 15% of nursing home residents are under the age of 65. In most cases, they need rehabilitative care after an injury or a surgical procedure. There are others with disabilities or other developmental issues that require them to have constant care that only a nursing home can provide.
Nursing Home Placement
Many families find themselves having to make a quick decision in a crisis, and have to get their loved one into the first facility they can. They may not have time to do research to find the best option for their loved ones, and end up choosing a facility they wouldn’t have considered otherwise. In some cases, the care their loved ones received has been sub-par.
Nursing home abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes in the US. The signs of abuse are not always obvious, even to the victim, so it’s important to be aware of any changes in your loved one’s attitude, demeanor, and physical condition.
Sadly, these changes are somewhat understated and may go unnoticed for a while. This is especially true in individuals with emotional conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and may prevent them from reporting abuse. Seniors may be especially afraid to mention mistreatment and abuse for fear of retaliation and “making things worse.”
There are several types of nursing home abuse, all of which have their own signs and symptoms.
Signs Of Physical And Emotional Abuse
When most people think of abuse in a nursing home, they usually think of physical abuse, since it’s the most apparent. It’s hard to think that an individual would hit or harm an elderly resident, but it does happen. Look for:
- Bone fractures and breaks—a resident may have been restrained, battered, or simply dropped or allowed to fall. Injuries in elderly residents from accidental falls can include broken bones in the wrist, elbows and hip joints. Experienced physicians and other healthcare professionals can tell the difference between fall fractures and injuries from assault and battery.
- Other unexplained injuries—scratches, dislocations and other signs that could indicate rough handling during repositioning or transfers, force-feeding, or forced administration of medication.
- Scared or startled easily—if a resident is constantly on edge, it could also be a sign that they have experienced physical assault by a staff member.
- Scrapes, welts and bruises—this could be the result of being restrained, grabbed, or an object used against them. Ankle, wrist and upper arm bruises are indicative of the use of physical restraints, and are also areas where it is easy to grab and restrain someone.
- Damaged or broken eyeglasses—a sign of being slapped or hit across the face, as well as facial cuts such as eye area and cheekbones.
Emotional abuse is also a reason for concern when your loved one exhibits:
- Social withdrawal—elderly people who are the subject of abuse may tend to isolate themselves out of fear. This is particularly true of individuals who are experiencing cognitive decline. Sudden changes in social activity, such as withdrawal, can be an indicator of physical as well as emotional abuse.
- Fear being left alone—individuals who are afraid of being alone may be scared of injuring themselves or dying. However, if they are afraid of being alone with a particular caretaker, this is indicative of their mistrust of the caretaker, who may be abusive to them.
- Missed medications—if a resident stops taking medications, this could be a psychological or emotional response to any type of abuse.
- Repetitive behaviors—such as rocking back and forth, mumbling or other types of repetition is an obvious gauge of emotional abuse.
Although these behaviors are frequently attributed to “old age,” consistent exhibitions of more than one behavior indicates a strong possibility of abuse.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
It’s hard to believe that anyone would inflict this type of abuse on an elderly resident, but it does happen. Indicators include:
- Indications of sexually transmitted infections and diseases
- Bruises or bleeding in the area of sexual organs (breasts, genitalia)
- Underwear that is damaged and/or stained
- Social withdrawal, self-isolation, or angry outbursts
Much like emotional abuse, the signs may not be obvious at first.
Signs Of Financial Abuse
If your loved one is accustomed to taking care of his or her own finances, you may have a more difficult time discovering theft. Even outside of a nursing home setting, financial abuse can be hard to find. It’s not unusual for distant relatives or nursing home staff to convince the resident that they can “help” them with their affairs, gaining their trust and getting consent to handle finances.
Be aware of things like:
- Unexplained expenditures, and the inability to remember them
- Missing property, such as jewelry or other valuable items
- Missing checkbooks, credit or debit cards, personal and/or financial documents such as account statements
- New loan applications
- Dormant checking accounts suddenly being used, or new co-signers to accounts
- ISF (insufficient funds) bank charges
- Address changes
- Account changes that favor someone new
- New subscription services with recurrent monthly charges
- “Charitable” donations to unregistered or unknown causes
- Bills for unforeseen expenses such as additional care or other medical costs
- Anything else that’s unusual for the individual
- Sudden secretiveness and hoarding or hiding papers
Many elders, particularly in a nursing home, may be afraid to discuss financial matters. They may fear embarrassment or retaliation if they reveal the changes they were convinced to authorize. Patients with cognitive decline may be unable to explain what they’ve done or who was involved.
What You Can Do
There are a number of things you can do right away when you discover that your loved one has become the victim of physical, emotional and/or financial abuse, especially when a nursing home employee is responsible.
First, contact West Virginia’s Adult Protective Services to make a report. You should also contact West Virgina’s Long-Term & Elder Care (Ombudsman) Director and Adult Protective Services to make additional reports.
If financial abuse is involved, contact the West Virginia Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808. Then contact your local county prosecutor.
Working with an elder abuse attorney can help discover the responsible parties as well as the options you have going forward.
Protecting Charleston’s Vulnerable Residents
Nursing home lawsuits are complicated as well as heart-wrenching. That’s why we work to ensure that a resident who has been harmed is represented and protected.
That’s why it’s important to have an attorney who understands what’s involved with a nursing home abuse lawsuit. Contact The Love Law Firm today at (304) 344-5683 for a free consultation. We’ve helped thousands of West Virginians fight for their loved ones in nursing homes, and we’re ready to help you.