Each year, there are more than one million incidences of elder abuse in nursing homes that lead to some kind of injury. The most common cause of injuries in the elderly population are due to neglect and abuse in the nursing home.
As our population grows, there is a larger percentage of people over the age of 65 than ever before. This is a population that is increasingly dependent upon the care of others for fundamental things such as bathing, dressing, grooming, eating and ambulating.
These activities of daily living are not without risk, and injuries in the nursing home are commonplace.
Nursing Home Neglect
Nursing home neglect is defined as negligence on the part of the caregiver who is indifferent to the health and well-being of the elderly person they are caring for. If a nursing facility does not provide the staff and an adequate level of care for the well-being of their nursing facility residents, they may be negligent and be named the cause of the injury. Often, neglect on the part of the nursing home staff is not considered intentional, but is instead a result of the problems of understaffing at the nursing facility.
Nursing Home Abuse
Nursing home abuse includes the intentional infliction of harm on the part of the caregiver that results in a physical or mental injury, or inflicts pain and disability on the resident. There are three main types of nursing home abuse:
- Nursing Home Physical Abuse
Physical abuse can include any type of battery and assault that has physical or medical evidence that the abuse has taken place, such as the presence of bruising, untreated infections, bed sores or broken bones. Perpetrators can be family members of the elder or nursing home staff who abuse the resident due to understaffing, emotional distress and personal problems.
- Mental and Emotional Abuse
Mental and emotional abuse of the elderly is often more difficult to detect by family members because it leaves no physical injury. On the other hand, mental and emotional abuse can be just as devastating to the nursing home resident as physical abuse. This form of abuse can include yelling at the resident, belittling them, embarrassing them or threatening them in any way. Perpetrators of mental and emotional abuse tend to isolate the resident from friends and family members. This type of abuse can be “silent” as well, and this usually happens when a caregiver ignores the elder’s wants and needs.
- Nursing Home Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse can occur in the homes of the perpetrator or elder, or in a nursing home setting. Sexual abuse can involve engaging in sexual attacks or sexual intercourse with the resident without their consent. This can be devastating and have lasting emotional and physical harm to the resident.
Typical Warning Signs of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
Some typical warning signs you need to be aware of include the following behaviors in the nursing home resident:
- Weight loss — Fluctuations in weight can be sudden and severe and is usually due to a lack of proper nutrition at their meals. It can also include dehydration, in which case the weight loss is due to water loss.
- Bedsores — These are ulcers, also called pressure ulcers, that are the result of excess pressure placed on various parts of the body. They can be caused by a variety of things, including being immobile and not being turned properly in bed at regular intervals. Bed sores can vary in severity. They may involve redness of the skin or openings in the skin, leading to deep sores that can extend to muscle, bone, fat, and tendons.
- Physical Skin Injuries — This can include open wounds, bruising of the skin or lacerations from a fall or an intentional injury.
- Medication errors — A resident may be victimized by medication errors. They may receive too little medication, too much medication, or the wrong medication altogether. If the patient receives the wrong kind of medicine, they may exhibit involuntary muscle movements, lethargy, seizures and sometimes sudden death.
Types of Nursing Home Injuries
There are several types of nursing home injuries, including:
- Spinal Injuries. This can result from dropping the patient or from a fall where the resident was not properly monitored when ambulating.
- Falls & Fractures. Ambulating patients are at risk of falls due to osteoporosis and a lack of careful monitoring. Debris left in the hallway of the nursing home can contribute to falls, as well as slippery floors. Falls in the elderly often lead to fractures of the hip, spine and wrist.
- Concussions. This can result from a fall that leads to a head injury. Common symptoms of a concussion are a decreased level of consciousness, confusion, speech difficulties and sometimes, coma or death.
- Broken Bones. Broken bones are usually due to falls, which affect the hip, spine, and wrist. It can affect the wrist if the patient falls on the outstretched hand. Broken bones in the elderly do not heal as fast as they do in young people and can result in extreme debility.
- Infections. Infections can be the result of a bed sore or poor hygiene. Infections in the elderly do not heal as quickly as they do in younger individuals, and they are more likely to become infected.
Laws Regarding Injuries
There are state and federal laws enacted on the behalf of nursing home residents that are designed to lessen the number of preventable abuse and neglect cases in the nursing facility (2).
For example, there is a state law in Minnesota that states that any nursing home operating safely must have enough qualified caregivers, including licensed practical nurses, registered nurses and certified nursing assistants.
These caregivers must be able to realistically meet the needs of the residents at all nursing stations, on all floors of the nursing home and in all buildings if the nursing home has more than one building. This includes having sufficient relief duty and the proper amount of staff members on weekends and holidays.
If a nursing facility fails to provide care in a compassionate and professional manner and you believe your loved one is being harmed as a result, you need to contact an Ombudsmen for the nursing home, the authorities, or Adult Protective Services. Sometimes lawyers are required to help you navigate the law when it comes to injuries sustained while in a nursing home.