You hope when you place your loved one in a nursing home that they will be respected and well-cared for. You understand that no one will care for them the same way the family could, but you never would expect anyone to abuse them. The signs of abuse can be so subtle that abuse may continue for months or years, before you understand what is going on.
Consider the following common signs of abuse:
Watch for sudden weight loss that cannot be explained by a medical condition or medications. Meals may be withheld or the nursing home resident may not be brought to the dining room or the resident can be skipped over by the staff if they require eating assistance. If you notice easy bruising (due to lack of protein), and increase in number of bruises, sunken eyes and cheeks, your loved one may be malnourished, dehydrated or suffering from physical abuse. Check for marks on the wrists and ankles where restraints may be applied. Notice the level of consciousness. Is your loved one always sleepy? Overmedication or oversedation is considered a restraint as well as an abuse.
Sexual abuse is often more difficult to detect if you do not visual the genital area or wash your loved ones clothes. Bloodied or ripped underwear, bruising or bleeding in the genital area or presence of a sexually transmitted disease are all signs of sexual abuse in the elderly.
Look for anxiety and fear when certain staff members or also other residents are around. Visible signs of depression, anxiety or hopelessness could indicate verbal abuse. Reports by your loved one that certain people are mean, while others are nice should be investigated. Also watch for sudden onset of “false dementia,” where the resident suddenly rocks, sucks or mumbles to themselves.
Recent changes to the estate planning documents should be investigated, as well as frequent bank account withdrawals. Pay special attention to any loan activity or mortgage changes. Each visit to the nursing home should include an inventory of personal property in the resident’s room as well, to make certain nothing has been stolen.
The majority of nursing homes are respectful of all residents and want to help them lead healthy and happy lives. There are those, however, who have some abuse or management difficulties that can lead to harm of the residents. If you suspect a situation of abuse, contact the State licensing board for nursing homes as well as the administrator of the home and perhaps consider moving your loved one to a different facility.