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Types of Nursing Home Abuse

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It is an unfortunate reality that as people age they are at an increased risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation. In recent years, nursing homes in particular have become notorious for substandard care. In fact, more than 90 percent of nursing homes were recently cited for violations of federal health and safety standards such as insufficient staffing of nurses and nursing assistants. The nursing staff provides assistance with activities of daily living (see sidebar) which not only help preserve an elder's dignity, but are also fundamental in preventing nursing home abuse as well as painful and expensive medical issues.

With an alarming number of cases involving physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse and neglect reportedly occurring in nursing homes across the country, it is important for family members and friends to be vigilant about their loved ones' care. If you suspect that you or your loved one has been a victim of nursing home abuse, contact a personal injury attorney who can take action to stop the abuse and seek compensation for any harm.

Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

Activities of Daily Living

According to a recent government study, more than half of nursing home residents required extensive assistance or were totally dependent on staff for daily living activities and issues such as:

  • Attending social activities
  • Getting out of bed
  • Bathing and grooming
  • Privacy when naked
  • Accessibility of water
  • Assistance eating
  • Reporting bedsores and other health concerns to the nurses and doctors
  • Hearing a kind word
  • Clean linen and clothing
  • Going to the bathroom

Source: Centers for Disease Control; The National Nursing Home Survey: 2004 Overview

When a nursing home resident receives inadequate care or is intentionally harmed by the very persons charged with keeping them safe, the facility may be liable for nursing home abuse. Often patients are unable to report nursing home abuse because of illness, dementia, confusion, shame, or fear of retaliation by their abusers. It is important for family members to be vigilant in looking for signs of nursing home abuse and take steps to protect their loved one.

Physical Abuse. When a member of the nursing home staff has used physical force or restraint that is beyond the scope of medically prescribed treatment, there may be a valid legal claim for physical abuse. For example, tying a patient to the bed or otherwise physically restraining a patient for purposes of discipline (or for the convenience of the staff) may be considered abuse. Other examples of physical abuse include:

  • Inappropriate use of chemical restraints such as under- or overmedicating a patient
  • Deprivation of food and water
  • Inappropriate touching, rape and other forms of sexual assault
  • Hitting, kicking, biting, shoving and other forms of physical assault

Signs of physical abuse include pressure sores, broken bones, bruises, black eyes, burn injuries, cuts and marks from restraints, dehydration and malnutrition, torn or bloodied undergarments and unexplained injuries. A lawyer experienced in nursing home abuse can help determine if you have a legal cause of action against the nursing home facility for physical abuse.

Mental Abuse. Mental abuse is when nursing home staff verbally abuse or otherwise act in a manner that is intended to intimidate or create emotional distress for the resident. For example, threatening to shove food down the throat of a patient who is not eating may be considered mental abuse. Other examples of mental abuse can include:

  • Humiliation
  • Yelling
  • Cursing
  • Isolation

Residents' Rights

Nursing home residents are guaranteed certain rights under the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act. Some of these rights include:

  • The right to be treated with dignity and respect.
  • The right to be informed in writing about services and fees before you enter the nursing home.
  • The right to manage your finances, or to choose someone else you trust to do this for you.
  • The right to privacy, and to keep and use your personal belongings and property as long as it doesn't interfere with the rights, health, or safety of others.
  • The right to be informed about your medical condition and medications, and to see your own doctor. You also have the right to refuse medications and treatments.
  • The right to have a choice over your schedule (for example, when you get up and go to sleep), your activities and other preferences that are important to you.
  • The right to an environment that is more like a home that maximizes your comfort and provides you with assistance to be as independent as possible.

Nursing homes are required to list these rights and provide a copy to each of their residents. Failure to do so is illegal and a possible warning sign that the resident(s) may not be receiving good care.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid

Signs of mental abuse are sometimes more difficult to recognize than physical abuse. Loved ones should look for indicators that include false dementia (sucking, biting, rocking), sudden agitation, depression, anger, fear, withdrawal, self-doubt and confusion.

Neglect. If nursing home staff fail to care for a resident in order to avoid harm and pain, or fail to react to a situation which may be harmful to the resident, the nursing home may be liable for neglect. For example, ignoring a resident's call bell or cry for help, or leaving the resident unattended in the bathroom, may be considered neglect. Other examples of neglect include:

  • Failure to provide food and water, which can lead to malnutrition and dehydration
  • Failure to provide adequate assistance with body positioning, which can lead to contractures
  • Lack of assistance participating in activities, which can lead to depression
  • Failure to assist with personal hygiene, which can lead to infection
  • Failure to provide adequate medical care, which can lead to illness
  • Failure to protect from safety hazards, which can lead to injury

Signs of neglect include malnutrition, dehydration, disheveled appearance, inadequate hygiene (e.g., nails, teeth), appearance and/or smell of urine or feces on the resident or in the bathroom, bedsores, unexplained weight loss, injuries from rough handling or falls due to lack of attention.

Financial Abuse. Financial abuse, also called misappropriation of funds, involves the illegal or unauthorized taking or using of an elder's funds, property or assets. For example, if a nursing home charges false or inflated fees for nursing home care, it may be considered abuse. Other examples of financial abuse include:

  • Forgery
  • Identity theft
  • Unauthorized check cashing
  • Theft of money or property
  • Coercing an elder into changing their will
  • Deceiving a resident into investing in a scam

Unusual bank account activity, recent changes to wills and other instruments, missing legal and financial documents, lost possessions, and new friends are possible indicators of financial abuse.

Contact a Nursing Home Abuse Attorney

If you suspect abuse, speak to an attorney as soon as possible so that your rights are preserved. An attorney can help stop the abuse, recover money or property that has been lost or stolen, and file a nursing home abuse lawsuit seeking compensation from the facility for the victim's injuries.

Did You Know?

Recent studies indicate approximately 800,000 preventable drug-related injuries occur each year in long-term care settings.

Source: Institute of Medicine of the National Academies


According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 159,000 U.S. nursing home residents (11%) had pressure ulcers.