March 26, 2018

The Shocking Truth About Nursing Home Abuse (And How You Can Protect Your Loved Ones From It)

Note: This post has been contributed.

For younger generations it can feel like we’ve come to accept the world as caring and unkind by default. There are, after all, precedents throughout the natural world of stronger life forms doing everything they must to survive and flourish even if it comes at the expense of other species. Kill or be killed quickly becomes not just the law of the jungle but of the boardroom. In the frantic struggle to achieve success, we glibly take backstabbing, duplicity and betrayal in our stride, shrugging them off as life in the big city. If we’re not careful we can even come to view compassion, altruism and selflessness as signs of weakness that must be quelled in order to survive in an uncaring and uncompromising world… Even though we see lots of examples of them in the natural world too. 



There are some areas in the professional sphere where we do not expect (or even ask for) compassion or altruism and some where it is absolutely essential. We expect those in the healthcare profession to be motivated by compassion as they deal with our quotidian aches, pain and injuries but if there’s one area in which we absolutely demand a sense of compassion alongside professionalism and dedication it’s in our nursing homes. When we commit someone we love to the care of a nursing home, we do so with certain expectations. We expect that their individual personal health needs will be met, but also that they will be treated with respect, compassion and dignity in their dotage. The reality, however is that while the overwhelming majority of nursing home professionals work with tireless passion, dedication, enthusiasm and professionalism, there’s also a worrying rise in elder abuse in nursing homes all over the world. Even if a Nursing Home Abuse Attorney isn’t necessary for your loved ones, it certainly pays to be abreast of the issue as it has serious ramifications to how the system may need to be improved in the future to sustain an aging population, with an estimated increase of over 100% in the world’s population of over 60s from 900 million to 2 billion by 2050. Here we’ll look at the extent of the issue and elucidate you as to how you can detect signs of elder abuse where your loved ones reside.

The scope of the problem

A World Health Organization report last year paints a damning picture of the state of elder care across the globe. The report indicated that a shocking 1 in 6 elderly people had experienced some form of abuse in the past year. In the USA, a staggering 95% of residents claim that they have witnessed the abuse of a peer. There are many different forms of physical and psychological abuse endured by our elders from the physical to the psychological and even the financial. Nursing home residents who are abused face a 300% increase in mortality risk, regardless of which form the abuse takes. 

According to the report 11.6% of the world’s elders are subject to psychological abuse in the form of bullying or psychological torment, 6.8% are subject to financial abuse including theft and identity fraud, 4.2% encounter neglect with their basic needs going deliberately unmet, 2.6% encountering physical abuse and 0.9% encountering sexual abuse.


Since many cases of elder abuse go unreported (with an estimated 1 in 24 cases actually being reported), this already shocking figure may only be the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous reasons why elder abuse may go unreported. It could be that the nursing home has insufficient preventative checks or whistleblowers could be silenced by threats and intimidation. Many abuse cases also go unreported as in many cases the abuser is actually a close friend or relative. If you have a parent or other loved one in care, this is likely very worrying reading. However, you can arm yourself against this grave and worryingly widespread injustice by spotting the signs. 

Knowing the signs of elder abuse

If you visit your relatives in care regularly, you are well placed to identify any untoward changes in appearance or behavior that could demonstrate signs of abuse. While we may be tempted to react strongly to the sight of bruises, it’s important to remember that even with the best of care, nursing home patients can encounter trips, falls and bumps just like the rest of us. As we get older, our skin loses the protective fatty layers that protect blood vessels, and as a result we bruise more easily. That said, recurring bruises can be indications of physical abuse. 

Other signs of physical abuse

Physical abuse takes place when carers strike patients or tie them to beds or wheelchairs. In some cases they may also be deliberately burned or cut. Signs include persistent cuts and bruises that fade then reappear in the same places, sprained or broken bones and a pronounced reluctance to report any injuries to a doctor.

Signs of sexual physical abuse include torn or bloodied clothes or bedding, bleeding from the genitals or anus, bruises around the body including on the breasts and genitals and evidence of sexually transmitted diseases.

Signs of psychological abuse

As the most pervasive form of abuse, we must be particularly wary of the signs that our loved ones have been abused in this way. While psychological abuse leaves no cuts or bruises, it leaves equally profound scars which can be determined by changes in behavior. If you notice any of the following it may be an indicator of psychological abuse;

  • Sudden quietness and lack of enjoyment in favorite activities.
  • Seeming frightened or withdrawn.
  • Rocking back and forth, or biting or sucking on sleeve.
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Mood swings
If they have been neglected they may bear signs such as persistent bed sores, dirty clothes, unkempt hair, sudden weight loss or loss of appetite. 



Signs of financial abuse

Financial abuse is becoming increasingly common as carers and fellow residents try to take advantage of wealthier residents. Signs to watch out for include;

  • Unexpected transactions on bank statements
  • Missing bank statements
  • Missing legal documents
  • A new friend or romantic partner who may be taking financial advantage
  • Unpaid bills
  • Signatures that look different and could possibly be forged.


If you see any of these potential indicators of abuse, report them immediately to the nursing home and request a consultation with an elder law specialist.

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