Nursing Home Abuse is increasing. The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates at least one in 20 nursing home patients has been the victim of abuse, though they believe the actual frequency is higher due to lack of reporting the abuse. There are well over one million Americans living in nursing homes, and that’s expected to at least double in the next ten years. Advocates for the elderly and disabled fear that incidences of abuse will continue to climb as well.
The sad truth is that a nursing home is not always the relaxing place of healing that it should be. According to the National Center’s study, almost 60% of nurses’ aides working in long-term care facilities admitted to witness or participate in acts of nursing home abuse. The report sites systemic problems within the nursing home industry, like inadequate pay for workers and chronic understaffing, as contributing to the epidemic of abuse.
Anyone with a loved one in a nursing home needs to be aware of the signs of abuse. Neglect is the most common form, and is easily recognizable if family members know what to look for. Patients in soiled beds and clothes, or those suffering from bedsores and frozen joints could be victims of neglect. Indications that a patient is over or under medicated can also signal neglect.
Neglect is most often caused by understaffing at nursing homes. However, this does not mean that neglect is less harmfull than other forms of abuse. In fact it can be deadly, as it was for an Alzheimer’s patient living at the Atrium I Nursing Home in Pennsylvania. The 88-year-old woman was allowed to wander away from the facility and died from exposure. The nursing home administrator was later charged and convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the patient’s death.
About 2500 cases of physical abuse by nursing home staff are being reported each year. Because this type of abuse can easily be disguised, the actual number of abuse and neglect instances can never be known. Elderly people can often be victims of falls, so sometimes, bruises, sprains or factures do not alarm a patient’s loved one. However, if these injuries cannot be fully explained, or if they are occurring frequently, further investigation is probably needed.
Believe it or not, even sexual abuse occurs in nursing homes. According to a 1996 Medicaid Fraud Report, 10% of all physical abuse cases in nursing homes are of a sexual nature. Sexual predators will usually take advantage of disabled patients who are physically unable to tell anyone about their assaults. Often, this type of abuse is only discovered when a patient shows evidence of sexual contact, perhaps in the form of a sexually transmitted disease. In Illinois the repeated rape of a mentally disabled woman wasn’t discovered until she became pregnant. A nurses’ aid was charged and plead guilty to sexual assault in that case last month.
Because elderly victims are so helpless, nursing home abuse is one of the most underreported crimes in America. Family members of nursing home patients must become aware of the signs of abuse, and they must be willing to advocate for their loved one. Often, family members are the only people who can prevent a tragic outcome for a long-term care patient.
For more information on this subject, please refer to our section on Nursing Home and Elder Abuse.