Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect: Basics

Elder abuse is defined by the Administration on Aging as “any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.”

Nursing home abuse is a widespread problem throughout the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that half a million Americans suffer from elder abuse or neglect every year, and The New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study found that for every case of elder abuse reported to authorities, another 24 cases go unreported. More than half of nursing home residents are classified as malnourished or at a risk for becoming malnourished, and more than 50,000 nursing home residents die annually as a result of complications from bedsores.

Malnourishment, dehydration, bedsores—all can be signs of nursing home neglect or abuse. While there are certainly cases of malnutrition and pressure ulcers that do not indicate abuse, the sheer numbers indicate that abuse is occurring—and will continue to occur—in American nursing homes.

The National Adult Protective Services Association, a national organization that works to stop mistreatment of elders, has identified the most common types of elder abuse:

  • Physical abuse: inflicting injury or physical pain on a senior, including bruising, slapping, hitting, beating, or restraining someone against his or her will by physical or chemical means (such as the improper administration of anti-psychotic medications)
  • Emotional abuse: infliction of anguish, distress, or mental pain on an elder person through threats, intimidation, or humiliation (includes insults, yelling, threatening harm or isolation, and nonverbal actions like throwing objects or glaring to create fear or intimidation)
  • Neglect: failure to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for an elder who is dependent on others for primary care (includes any failure to support the physical, emotional, or social needs of the adult)
  • Isolation: restricting visits from family and friends and/or preventing contact via telephone or mail
  • Sexual abuse: using physical force, threats, or coercion to facilitate non-consensual touching, fondling, or intercourse; particularly troubling when it involves vulnerable adults who are unable to give consent or understand the nature of the actions
  • Exploitation: the illegal taking, misuse, or mishandling of possessions, assets, or property (including the use of someone’s assets without consent, through coercion or manipulation, or under false pretenses
  • Abandonment: the desertion of a vulnerable adult by someone who has assumed responsibility for his or her care

It is well-documented that elderly nursing home residents tend to suffer in silence rather than report their abuser(s) to the proper authorities. As such, it is extremely important for friends and family members to keep a close eye on their elderly relatives and loved ones for signs of abuse. Elder abuse looks different for every victim, but there are certain warning signs to look for:

  • Sudden inability to meet physical, psychological, or social needs threatening health, well-being, or safety
  • Falling out of contact with neighbors, friends, or family
  • Welts or bruising on the skin, especially those appearing on the face or arms (research has shown that bruises are significantly more likely to form in cases of abuse than cases of accidental injuries)
  • Fingerprints or handprints visible on the face, neck, arms, or wrists
  • Burns from scalding, cigarettes, or in the shape of an object (such as an iron)
  • Cuts, lacerations, or puncture wounds
  • Sprains, fractures, or dislocations
  • Internal injuries or vomiting
  • Torn, stained, or bloody clothing
  • Disheveled appearance, sometimes coupled with soiled clothing or inappropriate attire for the weather
  • Appearing malnourished, dehydrated, hungry, disoriented, or confused

If you suspect a loved one is being abused in a nursing home, there are several resources available. Call the New Jersey elder abuse hotline at 1-800-792-8820 or visit the New Jersey Adult Protective Services website. If you are interested in pursuing a personal injury claim for elder abuse, contact Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi at (201) 585-9111.