Nursing Home Negligence: What is Elder Abuse?

Nursing Home Negligence: What is Elder Abuse? According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, elderly people who live in nursing homes that provide long-term residence and support are more at risk for neglect and abuse than elderly people who live with family. Because people who live in nursing homes often have chronic diseases, they also frequently have cognitive and physical limitations, which means that they are highly dependent on their caretakers. The National Council on Aging (NCA) estimates that about 1 in 10 Americans who are over 60 years old have experienced elder abuse. However, the NCA refers to a study that shows that elderly people and their loved ones report only 1 in 14 cases to the authorities. If you notice signs of abuse in your loved one who is residing in a nursing home, contact an elder abuse attorney as soon as possible.

Types of Abuse

Elder abuse isn’t limited to hitting a patient. Nursing home residents can be victims of many forms of elder abuse.

Physical Abuse

Causing pain by any physical contact with the patient, including hitting, bruising, slapping, and beating constitutes physical abuse. Even locking a patient in their room or strapping the person to the bed constitutes physical abuse. Sexual abuse is also physical abuse and includes non-consensual touching, intercourse, fondling or any other form of sexual activity. If the activity is consensual, but the elderly person does not realize what is happening, the person initiating the contact can still face sexual abuse charges.


If caretakers do not attend to the patient’s emotional, physical and social needs, they may be accused of neglecting the patient. Other forms of neglect might include:
  • Threatening the patient;
  • Humiliating the patient;
  • Intimidating the patient;
  • Withholding food and water;
  • Withholding access to health care professionals; and
  • Withholding medications the patient needs.

Emotional Abuse

When a health care professional creates emotional pain or causes the patient distress, whether by insulting the patient, threatening to harm the patient, or even using body language to intimidate a patient, authorities consider those actions emotional abuse.

Abandonment and Isolation

If nursing home staff restrict visits from friends and family, they are abusing the patient through isolation. Isolation is not limited to physical visits. Isolation also includes keeping mail from the patient and not putting phone calls through to the patient. When this type of abuse goes as far as the staff not interacting with the patient at all, or family members not visiting, that form of abuse is termed abandonment.


Exploitation may be financial or material. This includes mishandling or misusing assets, property, or personal possessions of anyone, including the elderly.

How to Tell if a Resident Is Being Abused

If you have a loved one in a nursing home, you should always watch for signs of neglect and abuse, according to NextAvenue. If your loved one is verbal, they may complain about their care to you. However, if someone is threatening your loved one, they may choose not to say anything. In those cases, and in cases where a loved one is not verbal, watch for the following signs:
  • Are the room and the nursing home as a whole clean? Take notice of the floors, walls, and furniture. While some amount of dirt is going to get on the floors during the day when traffic is high, it shouldn’t be any worse than any other facility with high traffic, such as a hospital or grocery store. Nursing homes are required by federal regulations to have an infection control program and to provide its residents with a clean, safe place to live.
  • Your loved one’s personal hygiene is suffering. If you notice that your loved one isn’t being bathed or their clothing has not been changed in days, staff may be neglecting them. Part of the staff’s job is to help residents with personal hygiene, including brushing teeth, getting dressed, getting showered, brushing hair, and even clipping nails.
  • Poor nutrition. If it looks like your loved one is not getting enough to eat or seems hungry all of the time, they may not be getting enough food and water. If your loved one is not eating properly or is not getting enough food, they could become dehydrated and malnourished.
  • Psychological issues. If your loved one seems to have psychological issues that were not present before and are not caused by the advancing stages of a disease such as Alzheimer’s, the staff may be abusing them. Psychological abuse can lead to self-neglect and other issues if the staff does not address the problem immediately.
  • Mobility issues. If your loved one seems to have increased mobility issues not related to a diagnosed condition, they may be suffering from abuse in the form of staff ignoring the resident. In addition to mobility issues, your loved one may have bed sores from being left in bed or a chair for long periods of time.
  • Injuries. Your loved one is in a nursing home in large part to protect them from injuries. Unexplained injuries such as head injuries, bruises or broken bones may point to elder abuse. If your loved one needs help with a task such as getting out of bed to use the bathroom and the staff does not offer help, your loved one may try to do the task alone and risk injuries.
Abused patients may show all or just one of the signs of abuse. As soon as you notice any signs, you should contact authorities and a personal injury lawyer who is experienced in elderly abuse cases.

Contact a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer if You Need Help

If you suspect a loved one is suffering from elder abuse, whether it is in the form of physical abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, or exploitation, take photos of your loved one and their room. Photographic documentation that may be admitted as evidence could help your case. Then call a nursing home abuse attorney for more information about how to seek help for your loved one.

William B. Kilduff


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