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Signs of Abuse or Neglect

Sadly, the abuse or neglect of a nursing home resident often goes undiscovered, or isn’t discovered until it’s too late. If you are the family member or a friend of a resident, it can be difficult to determine whether your loved one has or is being treated improperly. Sometimes signs are overlooked or dismissed as being an aspect of a progressing condition or the aging process in general. Residents themselves can even have difficulty identifying signs of abuse or abuse or neglect, and even when they do, might be hesitant to tell others out of fear of retaliation or further mistreatment.

Whether you are a nursing home resident, or a loved one is, it is important to know the warning signs to look for that may be suggestive of abuse or neglect. Behavioral and physical changes are the most common indicators of mistreatment, including:

  • Behavioral changes that are unusual, sudden, unexpected, and/or unrelated to a medical condition, such as withdrawal, disinterest in others, lethargy, refusal to talk, agitation, irritability, anger, fear of being touched, anxiety, nervousness, emotional upset, depression.
  • Physical changes that are inexplicable, seem suspicious, and/or cannot be attributed to a medical condition, such as dehydration, infection, malnutrition, weight loss, frequent illness, inadequate hygiene, bedsores, wounds, bruises, welts, signs of restraint on arms or legs, broken/fractured bones, head injuries, death.

Because not all changes in a resident’s condition, whether behavioral or physical in nature, are indicative of elder abuse, it is important to understand the reasons for their onset. For many, it can be hard to distinguish between signs or symptoms associated with age-related frailty or mental deterioration, and those which suggest maltreatment. In some cases, the two may overlap, making it even more difficult to determine whether certain changes are normal/expected, or whether they are unusual/suspicious. Be wary of caregivers or facility staff members that try to ‘explain away’ any changes that concern you.

Failure to properly tend to a resident’s grooming needs can be another potential sign of neglect. While it may not be possible for a facility to carry out all of the grooming habits/practices that an individual may have been formerly accustomed to prior to becoming a resident, what can be expected is that he or she will receive the level of care and grooming required to meet basic and medically-necessary hygienic needs. At a minimum, this includes regular bathing; clean & properly fitting clothing; dental hygiene; and necessary nail and/or skin care. Specific grooming services provided, as well as those offered as an optional or supplemental service are typically set forth within the resident’s nursing home contract. In some cases, neglecting a resident’s grooming and hygienic is a sign of a more serious issue of elder abuse.

The conditions of the facility itself can also reveal signs of elder abuse or neglect. If you are visiting a loved one, try to make a habit of performing routine inspections of the facility, including the resident’s personal, as well as any shared living areas. Some things to look for:

  • Soiled, stained, or torn bedding or clothing
  • Inadequate housekeeping (dirty floors, unclean living areas)
  • Improper disposal biohazardous materials (needles, catheters, bandages)
  • Failure to clean-up bodily fluids (blood, vomit, urine, feces)
  • Spoiled food that is left out
  • Insects / signs of infestation
  • Safety issues (unsafe equipment/furniture, poor lighting, slippery floors, electrical/fire hazards
  • Any other unclean, unsanitary, or unsafe conditions

Indications of mistreatment can also be found by observing the behaviors and actions of caregivers and staff, as well as the other residents that reside there. Some signs to look for:

  • Inattentiveness to resident needs
  • Threatening, insulting, belittling, or other verbal abuse
  • Forceful, controlling, rough-handling a resident
  • Improper use of restraints
  • Over-medicating or unnecessary sedation

Even if you don’t actually witness a staff member or facility caregiver abusing or neglecting a patient, there are other warnings that could indicate possible mistreatment, such as a change in a resident’s behavior or reluctance to speak when staff/caregivers are present. Another red flag is when the staff doesn’t allow you to visit alone with a resident, or when they seem seems overly/unnecessarily involved with your visit/communications with resident. In some cases, missing or inadequate entries in records pertaining to the resident’s daily care can be a sign of neglect or abuse as well.

Nursing home negligence comes in many forms and is not always outwardly apparent. If you have a concern, trust your instincts, and tell someone. Elder abuse is a serious matter, and should not be ignored. Contact the Chicago Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. online, or give us a call at 773-516-4100.

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