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6 Signs of Nursing Home Neglect

Watch for these red flags to keep your loved one safe and healthy

Nursing home abuse is a serious issue at facilities across the country, with neglect being considered one of the most common forms of abuse. Neglect occurs when a person does not receive the proper level of care he or she needs. This level can vary depending on the individual case, but for nursing home residents, it often includes basic hygiene, assistance with eating and help with mobility.

When a nursing home fails to provide proper care, residents can suffer significant physical and psychological damage. Knowing the signs of neglect can help to prevent or stop it before your loved one suffers greatly. Although the signs can vary depending on the case, and one indicator alone does not necessarily point to neglect, a combination of the following could mean a problem:

6 Red Flags to Watch For

1. Poor personal hygiene  When caring for nursing home residents, nurses and other staff are expected to aid with basic personal hygiene. Many residents need help with getting dressed, brushing their teeth, clipping their nails, bathing, combing their hair and more. When a person is neglected, they are left to do these things on their own and often they are not capable of doing so.

When a nursing home does not have enough staff members, residents and their hygiene routines suffer. Additionally, in some cases, staff members lack formal education in proper health care. Unfortunately, lack of routine dental care is a serious issue at nursing homes throughout the country.

2. Unsanitary living conditions  Nursing homes are required to provide residents with safe and clean living conditions. Failing to do so could indicate they are being neglected. According to federal law, nursing home facilities must “establish and maintain an infection control program designed to provide a safe, sanitary and comfortable environment in which residents reside…” They also must meet state requirements for safety and security.

Malnutrition and dehydration can be caused by issues ranging from inadequate staffing to high nurse and aide turnover.

Make sure your loved one or the facility has clean clothing and bedding, clean bathroom areas and a sanitary kitchen. Neglecting these duties could lead to sickness and other health-related issues.

3. Physical issues from lack of nutrition  Neglect also can lead to physical issues like malnutrition and dehydration. Whether caused deliberately or through lack of oversight, poor nutrition affects millions of people in nursing homes across the country. Recent research has estimated that about 20 percent of international nursing home residents had some form of malnutrition.

Malnutrition and dehydration can be caused by issues ranging from inadequate staffing to a lack of individualized care and high nurse and aide turnover. Medical problems like depression and difficulty swallowing can also play a role.

4. Loss or lack of mobility  Mobility is often a challenge for nursing home residents. A good nursing home will make sure staff helps residents move around, exercise and remain as active as possible. Many facilities use walking programs to build muscle tone and strength, improve circulation, increase balance and reduce spasms and contractures, according to the Illinois Council on Long Term Care.

If a person is neglected, he or she may be left in bed for long periods of time, risking a loss of all mobility. Without routine movement, residents can also face other health issues, such as bedsores and infections.

5. Unexplained injuries  Things like broken bones, bruises or head injuries could be a significant indicator that abuse or neglect is taking place. People who do not receive the help they need may attempt to do things for themselves. That may be as simple as walking somewhere unassisted, which can lead to falls or other preventable injuries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1,800 older adults living in nursing homes die each year from fall-related injuries. The average nursing home resident falls 2.6 times each year. Those who survive frequently become permanently disabled and are left with a reduced quality of life. Although not all of these incidents are caused by neglect, the CDC lists a number of things nursing homes can do to help prevent falls, such as reviewing prescribed drugs to assess their risk, installing grab bars and better training their staff.

6. Psychological issues  Neglect, like other forms of abuse, can cause a number of emotional issues for elderly residents. They may become afraid of the caregivers and reluctant to talk about the issues they face or may become angry or resentful. Sometimes, residents grow distant from friends and family, close themselves off and even suffer from depression. All of the emotional changes should be taken seriously and should be addressed immediately.

These issues also may cause a person to begin neglecting themselves. The National Adult Protective Services Association defines self-neglect as: “an adult’s inability, due to physical or mental impairment or diminished capacity, to perform essential self-care….” Examples of self-neglect include refusing to eat, refusing to take necessary medication or refusing to perform basic personal hygiene.

Take Action If Needed

Neglect is a tragic issue that can cause serious physical and psychological harm for elderly nursing home residents. Knowing the warning signs and indicators of abuse can help you protect your loved one.

If you suspect a nursing home is not providing the level of care needed, contact your local ombudsman program.

The writer is marketing manager for Winburn Bequette, a law firm representing nursing home abuse victims.

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