Nursing Home Neglect - Learn About the Types of Neglect

Nursing Home Neglect

Negligence in Nursing Homes

Quick Answer

Nursing home neglect — the inadequate care of nursing home residents — is shockingly common. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), roughly 95% of nursing home residents have been neglected or have witnessed neglect. Inadequate care in nursing homes can have serious consequences, including death. However, residents and their loved ones can help prevent neglect.

What Is Nursing Home Neglect?

Nursing home neglect is a type of elder abuse committed against older adults in nursing homes. It involves the substandard care of a resident, or a breach of duty that harms a resident.

Elder Neglect vs Elder Abuse

The NCEA categorizes elder neglect as a type of elder abuse. Elder abuse is the mistreatment of older adults by those in a position of trust. While many types of elder abuse involve direct harm to the victim, neglect causes harm through substandard care or a failure to perform caregiving duties.

Elder neglect can take many forms, including:

  • Abandonment: This occurs when someone who is responsible for an elder’s care deserts them, often leaving them in a public place, a nursing facility, or a hospital.
  • Nursing home neglect: Nursing home neglect is the failure of staff and other responsible individuals to provide adequate care to nursing home residents.
  • Self-neglect: This occurs when an older adult loses the ability to perform adequate self-care but does not get assistance or refuses care.

Although neglect may not seem as shocking as some forms of elder abuse, it can be just as harmful to the physical and psychological health of older adults.

Quick Facts About Nursing Home Neglect

  • In one 2,000-person study of nursing home residents, only 5% of respondents had never experienced or witnessed neglect.
  • According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 15.3% of elder abuse complaints are for neglect.
  • From 1999-2001, the NCEA reported that nearly 1 in 3 U.S. nursing homes were cited for violations of federal standards that could or had harmed a resident.
  • Nearly 1 out of 10 nursing homes had violations that caused residents harm, serious injury, or placed them at risk of death, according to the NCEA.

Types of Nursing Home Neglect

Neglect can involve a caretaker’s failure to provide various types of care to an older adult, which often falls into four general categories.

The four main types of nursing home neglect are:

  • Medical neglect: This involves the failure of a nursing facility to properly attend to or prevent a resident’s medical concerns. This may result in inadequate diabetic care, bedsores, infections, mobility issues, and other problems.
  • Neglect of basic needs: This type of neglect is the failure of a nursing home to provide a resident with enough food, water, or a clean, safe environment.
  • Neglect of personal hygiene: This can be described as the failure of a nursing facility to properly help a resident maintain their hygiene, including dental care, laundry, and bathing.
  • Social or emotional neglect: This may involve ignoring a nursing home resident, leaving them alone excessively, constant unkind treatment, and other failures to provide enough social and emotional care.

Causes of Elder Neglect in Nursing Homes

2018 federal data revealed that most U.S. nursing homes are understaffed — a central cause of nursing home neglect. However, other staffing problems may also contribute to neglect.

The main causes of nursing home neglect are:

  • Understaffing: When a nursing facility does not have enough staff, the employees they do have are overburdened. This may lead to increased stress, exhaustion, and a lack of time to properly tend to the needs of all nursing home residents.
  • Negligent hiring: This involves hiring caretakers who, based on their criminal backgrounds or actions during past employment, are at high risk of mistreating or neglecting vulnerable older adults. Nursing homes should follow a thorough screening process to check an applicant’s criminal background and certifications.
  • Inadequate training: Caretakers who are not properly trained for their roles can slip into patterns of neglect. Undertrained caretakers are more likely to make mistakes with medications, mishandle frail elderly residents or residents with mobility issues, and make other mistakes leading to inadequate care.

Warning Signs of Nursing Home Neglect

Those concerned about a nursing home’s general quality of care can look for red flags that may indicate neglect. While these signs don’t necessarily mean that a home has issues with neglect, seeing several may be a cause for concern.

Common signs of nursing home neglect include:

  • Poor Resident Hygiene

    Many elderly people need help with personal care, such as brushing their teeth, bathing, and doing their hair. Nursing homes without enough staff members often fail to properly see to the everyday needs of elders, and as a result, their hygiene suffers.

  • Unsanitary Living Conditions

    A nursing home should provide clean clothing, bedding, rooms, and living areas. In addition, facilities should be free from pests, mold, etc.

  • Signs of Inadequate Nutrition

    Many residents in neglectful nursing homes suffer from malnutrition and dehydration because they are not receiving meals and drinks in a timely or frequent enough manner. Loved ones should look for signs of malnutrition such as constant tiredness or irritability, constant complaints of being cold, hair loss, and papery skin.

  • Loss or Lack of Mobility

    Good nursing homes build in programs and policies around keeping residents as mobile as possible. Keeping active helps residents retain muscle mass and mobility. Neglectful nursing homes often have residents who have lost most or all mobility because they are left sitting or in bed for long periods.

  • Unexplained Injuries

    Neglectful nursing homes are less likely to catch, report, or prevent other forms of elder abuse, leading to an increase in injuries among residents. Furthermore, if neglectful staff members do not aid them in time, residents may eventually attempt to help themselves, leading to more falls and other injuries.

  • Psychological Issues

    Neglect may lead to emotional issues, such as fear of caregivers, a reluctance to open up to staff, or anger and resentment. Constant neglect can cause depression, and some residents may distance themselves from friends and family as a result.

What to Do About Nursing Home Neglect

A data brief released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggests that nursing home neglect is unfortunately common. From 2013-2017, 31% of nursing homes were cited for a specific quality of care issue at least 5 times.

However, steps can be taken to help prevent or end the neglect of nursing home residents.

Preventing Neglect

Neglect is largely the result of poor staffing, but there are steps that can be taken to help prevent the neglect of nursing home residents.

Help protect loved ones from nursing home neglect by:

  • Believing loved ones: Never dismiss an older adult who complains of neglect — look into it. Too often, the elderly are not listened to in serious cases of abuse. Also, refusing to listen to a loved one may discourage them from opening up about potential future problems.
  • Carefully reviewing nursing home facilities: Anyone considering a nursing home for a loved one should look for signs of poor care quality, such as understaffing and unsanitary living conditions. They should also be aware that price, the appearance of public spaces, and even online ratings may not guarantee quality of care.
  • Regularly contacting loved ones: Visiting loved ones frequently may make it easier to see signs of poor care such as inadequate hygiene and malnutrition. It may also be easier to gauge the mood of an elderly loved one. If frequent visits are not possible, keeping in touch over the phone or other methods is still helpful.
  • Watching for signs of neglect or abuse: Simply being aware of the warning signs of neglect and abuse is essential to addressing inadequate care as soon as possible.

Reporting Neglect

If a loved one does become the victim of nursing home neglect, it is essential to act immediately. Neglect may be a sign of other forms of abuse, and it can have serious consequences for the victim, including depression, permanent disability, or even death.

If a loved one is the victim of nursing home neglect, contact:

  • Local law enforcement: If a nursing home resident is in immediate physical danger, or in danger of developing serious health issues, call the local police or paramedics. They can remove a resident from a neglectful nursing home and deliver the victim to a safe location such as a different care facility. If the nursing home or care staff has broken any laws, the police will conduct a criminal investigation.
  • A local long-term care ombudsman: In most cases, a local ombudsman should be the first person families turn to when dealing with less urgent cases of elder abuse or neglect. Ombudsmen serve as advocates for adults in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. They will address concerns an elder or their loved ones may have concerning neglect, investigate a nursing home for signs of neglect, and, if necessary, help victims take legal action.
  • Adult Protective Services (APS): Procedures are different between states, but generally, a state’s APS office will be in charge of investigating non-urgent complaints of nursing home neglect and determining how serious the case is.
  • Social service workers: When investigating a complaint, APS will call on social services they are partnered with to address a nursing home neglect victim’s health and safety concerns.
  • An elder abuse lawyer: If you suspect that your loved one is the victim of elder abuse or neglect, consulting with an experienced nursing home abuse attorney may be helpful. They can give guidance on how to respond in a case of neglect and make sure that the resident’s well-being and legal rights are protected.

If Your Loved One Has Suffered from Neglect in a Nursing Home, We Can Help

When someone you love has been mistreated by people they should have been able to trust, pursuing legal action may feel too overwhelming to handle.

That said, filing a nursing home abuse or neglect lawsuit can result in financial compensation that helps your loved one.

Pursuing compensation for nursing home neglect may help:

  • Pay for medical bills that resulted from the neglect
  • Pay for mental health therapy needed after the neglect
  • Pay for expenses related to moving your loved one to another facility
  • Enact justice against those responsible
  • Protect against the neglect of the elderly in nursing homes

Nobody should have to suffer from poor treatment during their most vulnerable years. If your loved one was the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, we can help.

Get a free case review today to see if you or your loved one may be entitled to compensation.

Nursing Home Abuse Support Team

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

View 8 Sources
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  2. Blanchard, S. (2016, February 18). 6 Signs of Nursing Home Neglect. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from
  3. Goguen, D. (n.d.). Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Law: Basics: How to identify the signs of elder abuse in a nursing home or other care facility, and what to do about it. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from
  4. National Center on Elder Abuse. (2012). Abuse of Residents of Long Term Care Facilities. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from
  5. Reeves, R. J. (n.d.). Nursing Home Negligence. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from
  6. Institute of Medicine. (2001). Strengthening the Caregiving Work Force. Improving the Quality of Long-Term Care. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from
  7. Hawes, C. & Kimbell, A. (2010). Detecting, Addressing and Preventing Elder Abuse In Residential Care Facilities [PDF file]. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from
  8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019, April 26). Trends in Deficiencies at Nursing Homes Show That Improvements Are Needed To Ensure the Health and Safety of Residents. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from
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