There are more than 3 million Americans living in nursing homes across the country and that number continues to grow. While the majority of nursing home residents live comfortably and receive quality care, there are many who are abused and neglected, either intentionally or through the mismanagement of the facility. When it’s your elder loved one who is the subject of that abuse or neglect, it’s important to know how to identify it and how to act to protect them.
Recognizing the Signs of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
Although the two terms are often used together and can sometimes occur to the same elder simultaneously, abuse and neglect are very distinct conditions. Abuse is the intentional use of violence or force. The intention is to either cause injury, humiliation, or it can be used to deprive a resident of service, care, or the freedom of movement. In addition to causing physical pain and harm, abuse can also cause emotional anguish.
Neglect may be intentional, but, more often than not, it’s the unintended result of an understaffed facility. It involves failing to provide a resident with proper care, which may include forgetting to provide meals and water, failing to assist with grooming and hygiene practices, or not responding to needs for maintenance of the elder’s living quarters.
While both abuse and neglect are difficult to identify, there are signs that family members can identify. The most common signs of neglect and abuse in elders include:

  • Bed sores and injuries
  • Dehydration and/or malnutrition
  • Behavioral changes, including a refusal to communicate and a reluctance to socialize with other residents
  • Broken bones and fractures
  • Frequent falls and head injuries
  • Infections
  • Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • Fear of staff members
  • Other unexplained injuries
  • Poor hygiene or unsanitary living conditions

Other indications that abuse or neglect may be occurring include:

  • severe injuries that may require hospitalization
  • Injuries resulting after the elder was found wandering or leaving the facility
  • A heavily sedated elder with no reasonable explanation offered
  • Conflict between residents
  • Frequent illnesses that go untreated

What Can Your Family Do, If You Suspect Your Elder Loved One is Being Abused?
There are a few things you can do to protect your elder loved one, if you suspect abuse or neglect. The first thing you will need to do is to gather evidence that can confirm your suspicions. You can try talking to your elder loved one and other residents, though they may be reluctant to speak out truthfully. Elders often fear reprisals from nursing home staff, so they may not be forthcoming.
If you see unclean or unsafe living conditions, a state of disrepair, or bruises and injuries on your elder loved one, take pictures of these things. Photographs and video recordings can provide solid proof of abuse and neglect. Additionally, request to see your elder loved one’s files to confirm that he or she is receiving meals and medical treatments. If the staff is reluctant to let you review the records, document this as well.
If the elder appears to be in a life-threatening situation, you should consider moving him or her to another facility. In either case, you should also report your suspicions to the police or the local district attorney. Many states have enacted laws requiring people to report suspected elder abuse to the authorities. The police will investigate your claims and the facility may face prosecution.
If you can’t afford to move your elder loved one or the situation goes unresolved, it may be time to consider hiring a personal injury attorney. By taking action in civil court, you can seek damages against the facility, which can compensate you for the cost of relocating your elder loved one to a new facility. Additionally, damages can reimburse you for the money paid for the care that the elder may not have received. This will also force the facility to change their practices and may compel them to better evaluate their staff.
Nursing home personnel may not be responsive to your concerns, especially in cases where the wrongdoing is the result of the mismanagement of the facility. Poorly supervised employees or overworked staff can result in both abuse and neglect. By paying close attention to your elder loved one’s living conditions, as well as their physical and emotional wellbeing, you may be able to spot abuse or neglect early. This can help you resolve a situation, before it worsens.