Nursing Home Neglect: Recognizing and Responding to the Signs

Woman in Wheelchair: Victim of Nursing Home Neglect

More than 13% of Americans—over 40 million people—are currently over 65 years old. Over the coming decades, that percentage is only expected to rise, as is the percentage of Americans over 85 years old. As the aging population increases, so does the population of nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Decades ago, most older people were cared for at home by their families, and, of course, many still are. But some things have changed: families have fewer children who are available to care for elderly parents; adult children move across the country with greater frequency, and are unavailable to care for family; economic realities mean adult household members need to work and can't stay home to care for loved ones. Increasingly, it's simply not possible to care for elderly relatives at home, and families are relying on the services of nursing homes.

We want to believe that our older loved ones are receiving the best possible care. Often, they are. But many times, even if they are not being abused, they are still victims of neglect. At least one report states that 90% of nursing home residents said that they, or another nursing home resident they know, have been neglected. What's more, over 50% or Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) in nursing homes have admitted verbally abusive language with residents; the number who have been neglectful is likely even higher.

What is Nursing Home Neglect?

Nursing home neglect is distinct from nursing home abuse in that abuse requires intent to harm the victim. But just because staff doesn't mean to hurt a nursing home resident doesn't mean their inattention isn't harmful.

Nursing homes may be neglectful on multiple levels. Neglect of basic needs means that residents are not receiving the basics they need, such as a safe, clean environment, or adequate nutrition and hydration. Then there is personal hygiene neglect, in which residents do not receive needed assistance with toileting, bathing, brushing their teeth, and other activities of daily living (ADLs). There may also be medical neglect, in which patients are not getting the care they need to prevent or treat bed sores or infections or to manage diabetes, cognitive disease, or other health issues.

Last but not least, there is emotional or social neglect, in which busy or overwhelmed staff simply ignore or speak harshly to the residents in their care, or leave them alone for extended periods of time. You can imagine how depressing and demoralizing this is to an elderly person confined to the four walls of a nursing home.

While neglect is committed by individuals, it is often fostered by the nursing home itself. Long-term care facilities are increasingly run by for-profit corporations. This means that they may try to maximize profits by running the facility in as "lean" a manner as possible, with minimal staffing, screening, and training of staff. By so doing, they contribute to the circumstances that make neglect of residents a foreseeable outcome.

Signs of Nursing Home Neglect

Some nursing home residents are able to report, to family members or others, that they have been neglected. Others lack the ability to verbalize, or even to recognize that they have been neglected. It is no surprise that elderly people in nursing homes are one of the demographics least likely to report abuse or neglect.

Family members may observe the following signs of neglect when visiting their loved one:

  • Bedsores
  • Bruising, broken bones, or other injuries from falls
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Sudden and dramatic weight loss
  • Diminished personal hygiene
  • Minimal positive interaction with nursing home staff
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Environmental issues, such as an unclean or unsafe facility, with cluttered or slippery floors or poor lighting

Nursing home neglect is not merely unpleasant; it can cause a resident's health to rapidly decline, and may even result in an untimely death. If you suspect nursing home neglect, you should take immediate action.

What to Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Neglect

You may not have the ability to immediately transfer your loved one to another facility, but if you suspect they are being neglected, you should begin taking steps in that direction. You should also arrange to have your loved one medically examined outside of the facility. Document your concerns and observations as specifically as possible, with dates, times, and descriptions. If you have the ability, take photographs of conditions or injuries.

You may also want to contact an experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney who is experienced in handling nursing home neglect and abuse cases. Taking legal action cannot make up for the neglect your loved one has suffered, but it can make the nursing home accountable for the conditions it has allowed to exist, and provide compensation to help pay for your loved one's future care.

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