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What to Do When You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse

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Millions of seniors across the nation are in nursing homes, assisted living and long-term care facilities. They depend on the services these facilities provide to maintain a certain quality of life, and you are within your rights to demand a certain standard of care. When you suspect that your loved one is the victim of neglect or abuse, the sense of betrayal, anger and fear can be overwhelming. Learn the signs of nursing home abuse, and what your options are if you suspect your senior loved one is the victim of mistreatment.

Attorney Brent Burks shares his expertise on Chattanooga’s News Channel 9 “This N That” with Brian Smith.

Understanding Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing home abuse occurs when a healthcare professional or staff in a nursing home or other care facility neglects, injures or otherwise mistreats a senior client in the facility. This can take many forms, from bullying to not giving them food or medications, to physical or even sexual abuse. There are over 500,000 reports of elder abuse every year in the United States alone.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse occurs when force is deliberately used against a senior and that force results in pain, disability or injury. This abuse does not stop at hitting or inflicting bodily harm, but the unauthorized or otherwise inappropriate use of restraints, confinement or even administering excessive or unauthorized drugs.

Watch for your loved one to display unexplained welts, scars, bruises or cuts, particularly if they appear in multiple areas or appear symmetrical on each side of the body. Keep an eye out for sprains, broken bones or unexplained physical pain. If your loved one talks about drugs in forms or dosages that you’re unaware of, this can be another sign, as can sudden changes in behavior. A major red flag in all forms of abuse is if the caregiver tries to stop you from being alone with your senior loved one.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse may be more common than physical and is harder to prove. With this form of abuse, which can be tied to bullying, the caregiver uses intimidation, threats, humiliation and scapegoating to rob the senior of their self-esteem, confidence and sense of self. This can also include neglect, which we’ll discuss below.

In cases of emotional abuse, your loved one will display marked changes in mood and behavior. They may get angry, depressed, sad or withdrawn, and refuse to discuss reasons why. They may go the other direction and make frantic demands for help or to be removed from the facility while being vague as to why. They can begin to display dementia-like behavior, from rocking back and forth to mumbling, hugging themselves or the like. Obviously, if you directly witness threatening behavior on the part of the caregiver, you should report it immediately.

In cases of neglect you will notice such signs as weight loss, dehydration, malnutrition, bed sores, dirty living conditions (watch for unusual odors), poor clothing or covering, and desertion. Again, marked changes in personality are always a red flag.

Sexual Abuse

Nobody wants to think about sexual abuse. It may be the most horrific kind of abuse to imagine. Whenever a healthcare worker or staff has contact with an elderly person that occurs without consent, from actual sex acts to forcing the viewing of pornography, this can be sexual abuse.

If the elder complains of pain around their sex organs or breasts, displays bruises or tearing in these areas, has unexplained incidents of infections or disease, or has underclothes that are torn, stained or bloody, these may be physical signs of sexual abuse. The caregiver’s refusal to let you be alone with the elder or marked changes in the senior’s personality are also signs.

What to Do

If you think your loved one in a senior care facility has been the victim of abuse, you have options. Report the suspected behavior immediately, and do what you can to remove your loved one from the source of the abuse. Next, call a qualified elder abuse attorney. This is a vital step not only in getting compensation for the injuries suffered, but in protecting your loved ones from further harm. Read more about nursing home abuse, and call us today for a free, no-obligation consultation about your case.

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