How will you know if someone you love, who lives in a nursing home, is being abused? So often, seniors are unable or afraid to communicate when things are not right. Here are some signs to watch for and information about what to do if you suspect elder abuse.
Obvious Signs of Abuse
Broken bones, bruises, cuts or scrapes can happen to any of us. For seniors, these can be the result of a fall or an accident. But if they happen or seem to be recurring, this is the time to ask your loved one what happened and to give them a chance to tell you. If you’re seeing these wounds regularly, without explanation, this can be a sign that there is trouble. Bruises on the neck, wrists, face, legs and arms are most common as these are places a caretaker might grab them with too much force, in order to move them around.
Bedsores are another obvious sign to watch for. When a person sits or lies in the same position for a very long time, their skin can become weaker and blood tends to pool at the pressure point, creating a painful sore. Bedsores in seniors are a sign of neglect. It is important that caretakers help make sure your loved one is moving or re-positioned regularly to avoid these painful injuries. They occur mostly on the back of the head, shoulder blades, buttocks, elbows and heels of the feet – anywhere the body rests against their bed or mattress for too long.
Less Obvious Signs of Abuse
Dramatic changes in a person’s appearance, weight or in their ability to move around easily can be less obvious but still measurable signs of abuse. Some of these changes are the natural result of aging. We all tend to move a little bit slower as we get older. But changes over a short period of time, like seeing a loved one change from moving easily to barely moving at all; or if they suddenly lose 20-30 pounds in a few months, these are warning signs. Changes like these can be age-related but they can also be signs of neglect. Sometimes nursing home caregivers are withholding food or water, leading to unexpected and dramatic weightloss. If their demeanor is different, if they are withdrawn or barely communicative when they used to be more talkative, this can be a sign they are getting an inappropriate dosage of medicine, something to drug them that makes caring for them seem easier This is a time to pay attention, take note and ask about the medications they are on.
Something is Just “Off”
We all know that feeling in your gut that something just isn’t right. It is important to heed that instinct when it comes to our aging loved ones who live in a full time care facilities. If your loved one who is usually the life-of-the-party type but is suddenly just wanting to be left alone, that can be a sign of abuse. If your mom who always has her hair and nails done “just so” is suddenly ignoring personal hygiene and appearances, the potential for abuse is there. If your music-loving father no longer cares if music is on or off, take note. Significant changes in appearance or social interaction, especially those that include withdrawing from their favorite activities, can all be typical signs of aging but they can also be signs that there is emotional or physical abuse at play. It is better to ask and check it out than to wonder and worry.
What to do if you Suspect Abuse or Neglect
If you suspect there may be negligent or abusive treatment, ask your loved one about their experience. It is important to note that they might be afraid to tell for fear of retribution or even out of loyalty to their caregivers. One key red flag to watch for is when a caregiver will not leave you alone with your loved one. In these cases, there is likely a problem. Take clear notes of what you have observed, stay calm and notify the senior staff at the facility. The nursing home has a legal obligation to address any concerns you may have. You should also ask to see the facility’s written policy if you have not already reviewed it. If, after all of this, you still feel that your concerns have not been addressed or if you continue to see signs of a problem, you should contact the Adult Protective Services office in your state. Every state has one of these offices. Additional information can also be found on the website for the National Council of Aging or call them at 800-667-1116 for assistance.