Nursing Home Abuse Articles

Elder abuse is defined by the CDC as the intentional act – or failure to act, in cases of neglect – by a person in a position of trust that harms or creates risk for a senior citizen. The CDC specifies a senior citizen as anyone 60 years of age and over, though many other sources begin including individuals at age 55 or 65.

What are some common forms of abuse? How can individuals recognize abuse in senior citizens? Most importantly, what can be done to prevent or stop abuse from occurring in nursing homes, hospitals or by private caregivers?

Multiple Forms of Abuse

Elder abuse exists in many forms, each of which may occur in a facility such as a nursing home or hospital, as well as within the senior citizen’s own home.

  • Physical abuse. Physical abuse is perhaps the best-known form of elder abuse and is the stereotypical assumption when the word ‘abuse’ is mentioned. Physical abuse includes all forms of physical force that result in injury to an individual, whether that injury is visible or not. This type of abuse can result in physical signs or pain from a source unknown to the observer.
  • Emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can be verbal – as in the case of yelling, insulting, or degrading the recipient. Emotional abuse can also be nonverbal, often involving cruel facial expressions, withholding affection, or refusal to allow the individual access to friends, family, or pleasures.
  • Sexual abuse. Sexual abuse takes many forms, among them rape, forced nudity, forced voyeurism, fondling, groping, or sexually harassing speech. However, all sexual abuse acts are nonconsensual on the part of the victim.
  • Neglect or abandonment. Neglect refers to the failure of the caregiver to provide adequate care or resources such as food and water. Neglect can be intentional, or active neglect, or may be unintentional, or passive neglect. Abandonment is a form of neglect in which the caregiver completely leaves the individual on his or her own or deserts the individual in another area.
  • Financial abuse. Financial abuse occurs when a caregiver or other person with access to the senior citizen’s assets improperly or illegally uses, steals, or otherwise depletes the assets.

How can Individuals Recognize Elder Abuse?

Certain populations of seniors are at an increased risk of abuse, including those who live alone and far away from friends or family who may notice signs of abuse. Seniors who suffer from memory problems, dementia, or trouble speaking are also more likely to be targets of abuse, as they are often not able to accurately relay the events that occur. Finally, frail adults who require care to maintain the activities of daily life such as paying bills, preparing food, or even bathing, eating and drinking, are more likely to suffer abuse at the hands of those providing care for them.

Each type of abuse carries its own warning signs, and friends or family members should be concerned if their loved one shows any of each type’s associated warning signs:

  • Physical abuse. Signs of physical abuse include bruises, red marks, lacerations, bumps, broken or fractured bones, or any unexplained injuries in various stages of healing. In addition, ripped clothing, broken glasses, or missing medications are other physical signs. Finally, a senior exhibiting unexplained signs of pain is cause for concern.
  • Emotional abuse. Signs of emotional abuse include extreme withdrawal or agitation, unusual behaviors, such as repetitive rocking, nodding or shaking, and overall lack of emotional response.
  • Sexual abuse. Signs of sexual abuse include bruising, bleeding or tearing, particularly around the breasts or genital areas, torn or bloody undergarments, and unexplained genital infections.
  • Neglect. Signs of neglect include dehydration, poor nutrition, and poor hygiene. In addition, poor or dirty living conditions, including dirt, insects, or medical waste, as well as unsafe living conditions such as hoarding or lack of heat and water, constitute neglect. Finally, the presence of untreated health problems, such as a spreading infection, rash or bed sores, may indicate neglect.
  • Financial abuse. Signs of financial abuse include sudden changes in funds or banking practices, such as allowing a new individual access. Unexplained purchases, withdrawals, or asset transfers, as well as unpaid bills may also be a sign of financial abuse.

Additionally, sudden changes in behavior on the part of the senior, such as refusal to see family or friends, refusal to see certain staff members, or unexplained fear of certain situations or people are classic warning signs of abuse of many kinds.

What can be Done to Prevent or Stop Elder Abuse?

The number one way to stop ongoing elder abuse is to listen when loved ones say they are being abused. Everyone involved should be vigilant and learn to recognize the above signs that seniors may be enduring abuse and offer any assistance available. Reports must be made to facility managers, caseworkers, local authorities, or to the state’s Department of Human Services or other local reporting system.

If you believe a senior citizen you know is experiencing elder abuse, consult the linked list of local reporting systems or call the Adult Protective Services and Elder Abuse Hotline.


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