While many nursing homes provide excellent care to their residents, far too many fall appallingly short. For some nursing facilities, the focus on the “bottom line” results in understaffed nursing homes with untrained and underpaid employees. Residents of these facilities can suffer terribly in their last days, due to neglect and abuse at the hands of their caregivers.
Elder abuse targets one of our most vulnerable populations and comes in many forms including physical, emotional and financial. By familiarizing yourself with the most common forms of nursing home abuse, you can recognize the early warning signs and help protect your loved ones.
Physical elder abuse is the non-accidental use of physical force against an elderly individual. It may result in pain or impairment, or even death. Physical abuse also includes improper use of drugs or the unnecessary use of physical restraints. This type of elder abuse is often easy to identify, by observing bruises or other injuries, whereas other types of abuse are far less obvious.
Unfortunately, many nursing home residents are the unidentified victims of a far more insidious problem – emotional elder abuse. This may include verbal abuse or passive behaviors such as ignoring or isolating the elderly resident. This type of treatment can leave elderly residents in states of pain, distress, anxiety or fear. Left unchecked, these emotional responses can trigger physical symptoms that drastically affect the resident’s overall health.
Financial exploitation is one of the most common forms of elder abuse. While it is often perpetrated by family members or others known to the victim, it also comes at the hands of professional caregivers. Abusers may use their position of authority to extort money, or they may gain the elderly resident’s trust and embark on a grand scheme to deplete an elderly person’s accounts.
Nursing Home Falls
As we age, our bodies may become weaker, our vision degenerates and our balance isn’t what it used to be. In addition, elderly nursing home residents may be taking medications that cause impairment. Falls account for nearly 30% of injury deaths in senior citizens. Even seemingly mild falls can result in permanent injury or death.
When a resident moves into a nursing home, the facility is required to design a care plan that includes a fall risk assessment. The purpose of this assessment is to determine what assistance the resident may need to safely move around. Most falls in nursing homes are caused by the caregivers’ negligence and can be due to a variety of factors such as poor lighting, wet floors, poorly fitted wheelchairs or improper bed height.
Falls can be prevented, with or without the use of restraints such as bed rails. Restraints are typically a last resort, as studies have shown that limiting a person’s mobility can contribute to fall-related injuries. Walking and physical conditioning programs, lowered bed heights, raised toilet seats and avoiding clutter can all help prevent falls. Additionally, facilities should ensure there is adequate staff available to assist residents with getting around.
Pressure sores, also known as bed sores, are all too common in nursing homes. Tragically, the vast majority of pressure sores are the result of inattentive care and could have been prevented. Pressure sores can be incredibly painful, causing disability and greatly increasing the resident’s risk of complications like sepsis or gangrene.
Some very basic preventive measures have been proven to protect residents from this type of injury, including turning residents at regular intervals, keeping them clean and dry, ensuring they are well hydrated and properly nourished, and utilizing the latest technological advances in cushions and mattresses.
If you or a loved one has suffered injury due to nursing home abuse or neglect, contact an experienced elder abuse or medical malpractice attorney. If there is a problem, it must be investigated immediately, so the appropriate care and treatment can be provided. Additionally, there may be hidden complications that are not apparent until it is too late to take legal action.
Richard F. Silber is admitted to practice in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. From his office in Georgetown, he and his legal team assist clients throughout the Washington metropolitan area.