When an elderly relative is struggling to care for themselves, and you are unable to care for them either, placing them in a nursing home may be the best option. However, the rates of abuse in nursing homes might make you reluctant.
According to the World Health Organization, 64.2% of nursing home staff members have reported abuse of nursing home residents, and abuse rates in the United States may have increased by as much as 84%. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how common nursing home abuse is, and even those who are aware may not have a choice but to put their relative in a home.
Learn the warning signs of abuse and neglect in nursing homes and how Nessler & Associates can help if your elderly loved one has been a victim of abuse or neglect.
What Causes Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect?
There are a wide variety of circumstances that lead to abuse in assisted living facilities. Nursing home staff often work long hours for low pay, and many facilities are regularly understaffed. Exhaustion and caregiver burnout can make them apathetic or frustrated with the residents’ needs, making it more likely that they’ll lash out at residents.
Additionally, some residents may be at greater risk of abuse than others. One 2011 study of nursing home residents in Michigan found that residents with difficulty with daily life tasks, behavioral problems, or a history of abuse victimization were at greater risk of physical abuse. Their needs may prove more challenging for poorly-trained or overwhelmed nursing home staff, causing staff to lash out and become abusive.
No matter how much help a resident needs or what behavioral problems they may have, it’s a caregiver’s job to treat them respectfully without lashing out or abusing them. If the caregiver is unable to do this, you may be able to pursue damages against them with the help of a nursing home abuse attorney.
Warning Signs of Neglect
Even when vulnerable adults have a safe place to stay, they may suffer neglect when nursing home staff members fail to provide the resources and care they need to stay safe and healthy. Sometimes neglect is a horrific result of understaffing, while other times, it’s more deliberate.
Common warning signs of elder or nursing home neglect include:
- Looking or smelling dirty or unwashed
- Wearing clothes that are ripped, unwashed, covered in stains, or soiled
- Visible signs of illness
- Unmet medical needs, such as unfilled prescriptions
- Unexplained weight loss
- Receiving resources they need but are unable to use without help: for example, being given clean clothes but not receiving any help changing
- Poor monitoring of medical conditions or physical location, like a loved one with dementia wandering off
- Hoarding or hiding necessities like food, water, and medication
- Seeming withdrawn, irritable, short-tempered, or listless
Some signs of neglect may resemble abuse. For example, an elderly person may be covered in bruises because they aren’t monitored and frequently fall or run into things. If unsure, consider contacting an Illinois nursing home neglect lawyer to determine your next steps.
Warning Signs of Abuse
Staff or other care facility residents can perpetrate abuse in nursing homes. There are multiple types of abuse, including physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse. No matter what abuse someone experiences, it can be highly damaging.
Many older adults are reluctant to tell their family members about abuse. They may feel ashamed of being abused, not want to burden their loved ones, have been threatened or coerced into silence, or have medical conditions that make it difficult to communicate or recall the abuse. If you notice signs of abuse, consider talking to your family member and speaking with a nursing home abuse attorney.
Physical abuse may seem like the most obvious form of abuse, as it entails physical injury: kicking, hitting, shoving, slapping, and other physical altercations. However, this kind of abuse can be surprisingly hard to spot if the abuser doesn’t leave marks. Instead, you may notice signs like:
- Visible signs of pain like wincing, grimacing, protecting the injury site with their arms or hands, limping, and limited movement
- Bruises, cuts, scars, burn markings, broken bones, or other injuries that don’t seem to be from ordinary clumsiness
- Damaged clothing or medical aids like glasses, hearing aids, and mobility devices
- Having no explanation for their injuries or explanations that don’t make sense
- Pulling away or flinching when someone tries to touch them
- Becoming jumpy or easily startled
While emotional abuse is becoming more widely discussed, many people are still unaware of the signs. Nursing home residents being emotionally abused may be subject to threats, nasty remarks, emotional invalidation, or deliberate attempts to embarrass or humiliate them. Victims of emotional abuse may become isolated and stop reaching out to friends and loved ones.
Emotional abuse can be just as painful as physical abuse. It may be particularly challenging for older adults, who fear burdening others with their needs or feel like others don’t care about them. Signs of emotional abuse include:
- Seeming quiet, withdrawn, sensitive, or short-tempered
- Staying out of touch with friends and loved ones
- Being overly apologetic
- Appearing anxious or on edge
- Feeling guilty for not appreciating caregivers enough
- Unusually passive behavior
- Believing or acting as though others don’t care about them
Older adults can become victims of sexual abuse from staff or other nursing home residents, particularly if they have limited mobility or incontinence problems. While some studies only report sexual abuse in elderly women, both men and women may face sexual abuse. Signs of sexual abuse in elders include:
- Bruises or fractures in the pelvic region or hips
- Tears and abrasions in the genital region
- Pain when walking or sitting
- Changes in gait, like limping
- Reluctance to undress in front of loved ones or certain staff members
- Unexplained development of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Increase in urinary tract infections
While financial abuse is less frequently discussed than other types of abuse, it’s quite common in elderly nursing home residents. Depending on the circumstances, older people may have their money or credit cards stolen, be manipulated into spending or giving away money, or have their finances handled by someone with criminal intentions. Signs of financial abuse include:
- Money going missing: cash or credit cards disappearing, bank accounts unusually low or empty
- Pensions or government benefits like SSI and SSDI going missing or being taken away
- Dramatic changes in spending habits: a frugal adult suddenly buying expensive things, or a habitual overspender becoming reluctant to make purchases
- Major assets (homes, cars, stocks, businesses) being sold off
- Changes to their will that seem suspicious or don’t make sense, like suddenly requesting a large donation to a staff member
Does Illinois Have Protections for Nursing Home Residents?
The state of Illinois aims to protect assisted living facilities and nursing home residents with the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act. The Act explicitly lays out the rights of nursing home residents, which include, but are not limited to:
- Being allowed to keep personal possessions, have control over their money, and continue visiting the same doctor or medical facilities
- Private communication with visitors through phone calls and letters
- Not being required to work or perform labor for the nursing home
- Restrictions on the use of restraints and psychoactive drugs
- The right to report mistreatment or make a complaint against the nursing home or its staff
The law also declares nursing home staff to be mandated reporters. If a staff member suspects or witnesses abuse, or a resident reports abuse to a staff member, they are legally obligated to report it to the relevant authorities.
Even with these laws, a nursing home may fail to take care of its residents. A nursing home abuse attorney can help you pursue damages against a nursing home that has neglected or mistreated your loved one.
What to Do if You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect
If your loved one tells you about Chicago nursing home abuse or you have reason to believe it’s happening, your first instinct may be to withdraw them from the nursing home to protect them. While you should always try to protect your loved one from further harm, it’s essential to take the appropriate steps to prove the abuse and file a claim against the abuser.
Gather Evidence of Abuse or Neglect
The best way to prove nursing home abuse is to document the signs. Take pictures of any physical signs of abuse, like bruises, swelling, or damaged belongings, and write down what time they occurred or when you saw them.
If you witness emotional abuse, write down what was said, who said it, and when it happened. Gather records of your loved one’s financial information, like bank statements and property information, if you suspect financial abuse. Finally, record your loved one describing the abuse or have them write down what happened.
While some people decide to record audio or video as proof of abuse, this is slightly more complicated. Illinois is a two-party consent state, meaning everyone must know and agree to being recorded.
If you record without everyone’s consent, you might be able to present the evidence to a nursing home leader or local authorities, but you will not be able to use it as proof of abuse in court.
Seek Medical Attention for Your Loved One
Getting prompt medical attention is vital if your loved one has faced physical or sexual abuse. Older adults heal far more slowly from injuries and are more likely to have medical conditions that place them at greater risk of health problems, like osteoporosis or heart disease.
Additionally, sexual abuse can lead to the transmission of STIs, which can cause seemingly unrelated health problems like damage to the nervous system.
Elderly people who have been neglected should also be seen by a medical professional. Neglect can lead to various health problems like sores, infections, rashes, and malnutrition. Left untreated, these conditions can progress to more serious or dangerous ailments.
Getting medical treatment for your loved one can ensure they recover as much as possible from their illnesses and injuries. It also establishes medical records that can be provided to a nursing home abuse lawyer if you choose to pursue a lawsuit.
Report the Nursing Home to the Department of Public Health
The Illinois Department of Public Health monitors all long-term care facilities, including nursing homes. Call the Department and report any abuse or neglect. You can find the appropriate phone number on the Department of Public Health’s website.
Consult an Attorney
Nursing home abuse and neglect can have detrimental effects on your loved one’s state of mind at best. At worst, you could lose your loved one far before their time. It’s a good idea to seek out a law firm with experience handling nursing home abuse and neglect cases, as they can determine what damages your loved one may have suffered.
A nursing home abuse attorney is familiar with what a victim of nursing home abuse may have faced. They can help you and your loved one gather evidence of nursing home abuse, file a claim with the court, and refer you to relevant attorneys if you choose to pursue criminal charges.
If you’re searching for an attorney to take on a nursing home abuse or neglect case in Illinois, Texas, Florida, or Colorado, consider hiring Nessler & Associates. We don’t believe your loved one should suffer the emotional damage of nursing home abuse; that’s why our goal is to recover damages for them.
Call (800) 727-8010 or fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation today.