Caring for aging family members is difficult. Many times, people are caring for their growing children at the same time that they are caring for their parents in their old age. Sometimes, because of Alzheimer's or other medical issues, families have to decide to place their loved ones in a nursing home facility.
You may have done your best to find a safe nursing home, but elder abuse and neglect can happen at any facility. If you suspect your parent or other older family member is being abused or medically neglected in a nursing home, there are some telltale signs to look for before calling an attorney.
Recognizing evidence of nursing home neglect
Is the room where your loved one resides dirty and dusty? When you come to visit, is he or she sitting in soiled clothing or dirty sheets? These are signs of neglect.
Bed sores are a strong indication that your loved one is not getting regular attention from staff or adequate medical care. Have you noticed redness or open wounds on your family member's joints or pressure points (elbows, heels, hips, tailbone)? Has your loved one complained of bed sores or pain from laying or sitting in one position constantly? The standard of care is for bedridden patients to be repositioned every few hours.
Recurring infections can be a sign that the nursing staff isn't taking adequate care of your loved one or is using non-sterile practices such as reusing syringes and catheters. Dirtiness can be a sign of neglected maintenance.
Weight loss can be a sign of abuse or undiagnosed medical conditions. It can also be a sign that your loved one is simply not getting adequate hydration and nutrition, or assistance with eating. Are there trays of uneaten food? Is the water cup empty?
Take a moment to document these issues with your cellphone whenever you encounter them. It can help substantiate your claim if you have to report the issue to authorities or pursue legal action against the nursing home.
Elder abuse can take many forms
Abuse comes in many forms, each with its own symptoms. As with neglect, make a point of documenting any visible evidence of mistreatment.
Physical abuse often leaves bruises, scratches or even fractures. Your loved one may flinch when certain staff members approach. Nursing home patients are prone to falling, but be wary of injuries that are blamed on a fall, especially if you were not notified of an accident. Take photos of the injuries.
Emotional abuse takes the form of insults, name-calling, yelling or even threats. Your loved one may seem scared to talk to you if a certain staff member is present, and staff may hover around, concerned what the patient might say. Does your loved one seem quiet, withdrawn or sad? Do they seem agitated or anxious around a certain staff member?
Sexual abuse is often harder to prove because the most vulnerable, such as those with severe dementia, are frequently the targets. They can struggle to articulate themselves or may have become non-verbal, making them easy to prey on. Changes in behavior or fear of touching could indicate your loved one is being abused.
Finally, financial abuse happens when staff members either steal from your loved one or manipulate them into giving away possessions or money. When you visit, does anything seems missing? Theft or undue influence must be taken seriously, and you should take steps immediately to determine who among the staff is involved. A criminal investigation may be warranted, as well as an investigation into the nursing home's hiring practices and supervision of employees.
An attorney can help you make sense of the situation
For many families with loved ones in nursing homes, taking the patient out of the facility is not an option. In these cases, your family may seek the aid of an attorney, who can advocate for your family and your loved one. From filing a civil suit to reclaim money paid while your loved one was being neglected to working with insurers to help you find an alternate solution, an attorney can help protect your family if you suspect your loved one is experiencing nursing home abuse.