With some 17,000 nursing homes serving 1.6 million individuals, it is expected that standards will vary, even among homes ostensibly adhering to the same standards. Unfortunately, in some nursing homes, abuse exists. Homes that are overcrowded, or homes with staff shortages or minimally trained staff, are susceptible, but it would be wrong to say that any specific condition makes abuse more likely. Under no circumstances is abuse excusable or acceptable in any way.
The greatest danger of nursing home abuse is that its victims are often either too frightened or too disoriented to report it, or even to tell friends or family. Those with family members in a nursing home should be aware of what to look for when trying to determine whether abuse exists:
- The patient appears fearful or agitated, depressed or withdrawn.
- The patient is isolated with no justification.
- The staff is rude or makes humiliating or derogatory comments to patients.
- Patients are making complaints.
- Patients’ rooms are not kept clean by staff.
- Common areas are unsanitary.
- Patients appear unkempt or dirty.
- Patients have bed sores or other untreated medical conditions.
- Patients have unexplained wounds, cuts, scrapes, sprains, or broken bones.
- Patients experience sudden unexplained weight loss.
- Patients are restrained without explanation as to why.
- Patient’s personal property is missing.
- Money is missing from patient’s accounts.
- Staff restricts or refuses visitors.
- Patient makes sudden changes in a will or other financial documents.
If you find abuse in a nursing home, you should report it at once. The U.S. Administration on Aging has a National Center on Elder Abuse web site (www.elderabusecenter.org) that links to individual state agencies. You can also call the Elder Care Locator at 1-800-677-1116. In an extreme emergency (if a patient’s life is in danger, for example), dialing 911 may be the best idea.