Nursing Home Neglect

Nursing Home Neglect

elderly abuseNursing home neglect is the most common type of elder abuse in nursing facilities, with 95 percent of nursing home residents reporting neglect in the past year.

While nursing home neglect is similar to abuse in the nursing home, there are key differences among the two.

Nursing home abuse implies that the caregiver intends to harm the elderly person, while nursing home neglect is a form of substandard care, or a breach of duty, that causes harm to the patient. The actions of the caregiver must be expected to cause harm to the resident who has been neglected.

Types of Nursing Facility Neglect

Nursing home neglect can vary according to each individual case. There are considered to be four different types of nursing home neglect, including the following:

  • Medical neglect. This is when the nursing facility fails to attend adequately or prevent medical concerns of the resident, including provisional care for diabetes, bed sores, infections, cognitive disorders, mobility issues and lacerations.
  • Neglect of Basic Needs. This is where the nursing facility fails to provide the resident with a reasonable amount of water or food, or fails to provide a clean and safe environment.
  • Neglect of Personal Hygiene. This is where nursing home residents do not have adequate assistance with cleaning, brushing their teeth, laundry, bathing or other types of hygiene practices.
  • Social or Emotional Neglect. This is where staff members repeatedly ignore the nursing home resident, leaving them alone, or are yelled at by an overstressed staff member.

Warning Signs of Nursing Facility Neglect

It is sometimes difficult to identify cases of nursing home neglect because the warning signs can be extremely subtle. Depending on the type of neglect perpetrated on the nursing home resident, there may be no physical evidence of nursing home neglect.

In addition, most behavioral changes in the resident can only be identified when the nursing facility resident lives in close proximity to loved ones or friends who can adequately detect changes in the resident. Elderly residents that don’t often see their family may be unable to express their concerns about possible neglect.

Neglect can be identified by observing the following changes in the nursing facility resident (1):

  • Malnutrition as evidenced by bedsores and frequent infections
  • Sudden weight loss, particularly if the resident needs help feeding themselves
  • Bed sores or pressure ulcers from failing to adequately turn the resident
  • Falls resulting in various types of injuries
  • Dehydration from failing to keep the resident stocked with adequate amounts of water
  • Withdrawn behavior in the resident or abnormal changes in their behavior
  • Failing to sustain friendly interaction with their fellow nursing facility residents
  • Alterations in appearance or personal hygiene
  • The presence of environmental hazards, such as slippery floors, bad lighting, unsafe wheelchairs and walkers and unsafe furniture in the nursing facility resident’s room

Common Nursing Facility Problems

The elderly nursing facility resident living in a neglecting facility is at a greater risk for significant illnesses, including injuries, infections and death. Certain forms of nursing home neglect are extremely obvious, while other cases of nursing home neglect are more subtle and are not reported to Ombudsmen or the authorities. Injuries stemming from falls at the nursing facility or things like strangulation from a malfunctioning bed are also examples of significant nursing facility neglect.

It is necessary to report incidences of nursing home neglect, as doing so can sometimes make the difference between a life and death for the nursing home resident.

Typical concerns related to neglect on the part of nursing home residents include bed sores, dehydration, and malnutrition. These are more observable types of nursing facility neglect that can be easily identified by the resident’s family during visits.

Preventing Nursing Facility Neglect

Nursing facility falls and suffocation from a malfunctioning bed are types of physical negligence that come on suddenly. These types of negligent nursing facility events are completely preventable. The nursing facility staff need to be readily available to help residents with their issues surrounding mobility.  Residents that have been identified as being at a higher risk for falls at the nursing facility should be monitored more carefully and checked on regularly.

The nursing facility staff needs to pay careful attention to the environment of the nursing facility, taking steps to resolve any safety or sanitary concerns. For example, the resident’s mattress should lie flush with the bed rails or bed frame to prevent injuries stemming from suffocation between the railing and the mattress. The nursing facility resident should be watched for alterations in mobility and mental clarity, along with other medical concerns that might develop.

It takes a combined effort on the behalf of all nursing facility employees to take steps to prevent injuries to the elderly nursing facility resident. According to research, those nursing facility residents who are often visited by friends, family or loved ones are least likely to suffer from nursing facility abuse and neglect.

When the family does visit the resident, they should observe for evidence of nursing facility neglect, changes in health and emotional distress on the part of the resident. At a nursing facility that is chronically understaffed, there needs to be ongoing communication between nurses and members of the family with regard to the nursing home resident’s care.

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Dr. Christine Traxler

Christine Traxler, MD is a retired family practice physician, graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in 1986, and freelance writer, having worked with patients in rural Minnesota for two decades. She has written several books on medical topics and currently resides in Minneapolis, MN, where she works as a freelance writer on medical topics.

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