You’re worried about your elderly mother, and with good reason. When she first moved into that new Omaha nursing home, she seemed positive, upbeat, and generally glad to have the medical care and assistance she needed. Now, months later, she hasn’t improved at all. If anything, she’s gotten worse. She has lost weight and seems depressed, although she shrugs off your questions and concern.
Don’t let the matter drop. Chances are that your mother may be one of a growing number of senior citizens who are being abused in the nursing homes and assisted living facilities that are supposed to sustain them in their old age.
Elder Abuse: A Growing Cause for Concern
Years ago, the U.S. General Accounting Office conducted a survey that yielded some horrifying results. A combination of understaffing, untrained caregivers, and profit-focused providers caused over one-quarter of American nursing homes to develop conditions that either harmed residents or put them at risk for serious injury or death. Even in assisted living facilities, where residents typically require less care, evidence was found of neglect, mental and sexual abuse, and physical violence.
There’s no reason to assume that the situation has improved since the GAO released its findings. A 2010 study by Cornell University and the New York City Department for the Aging found that:
Knowing that this is a very prevalent threat all over the U.S., here are five red flags that you should look for when you suspect that your elderly loved one is being abused.
No. 1. The person shows signs of poor hygiene.
If your mother always took pride in her appearance but now goes around with her hair uncombed and wearing clothing with old food stains on them, it’s a sign that little to no attention is being given to her personal needs. The effect is not purely cosmetic either—poor hygiene can enable germs and bacteria to settle in and wreak havoc on her health.
No. 2. The person is frequently injured.
While the elderly are more prone to falls due to weakened muscles and balance problems, frequent injuries should be investigated further. Bedsores are a sign that the resident has been left in one position for too long, and frequent reports of bruising and broken bones are strongly suggestive of wet floors, unattended trip hazards, poor supervision, and even physical assault by staff or other residents.
No. 3. The person seems dazed and disoriented whenever you visit them.
If your elderly loved one seems “out of it” when you visit, investigate further. When care facilities are short-staffed and/or the personnel on duty have little time or patience, sedatives are often given to minimize complaint levels or make the residents more tractable. Not only is the practice unacceptable, it is also dangerous: improper sedation, combined with other medications the person may be taking, can result in adverse drug effects and interactions.
No. 4. The person is losing weight and appears malnourished.
Your mother was always a hearty eater, but now that she’s in full-time care, she’s losing weight. She also has little energy, her eyes seem red and glassy, and she appears listless and irritable. While confusion and low energy can be part of the aging process, when combined with significant weight loss and physical symptoms like mouth sores and yellow skin tone, it’s more likely that malnutrition is the culprit.
No. 5. The person’s money and property are going missing.
Financial abuse is another way that poorly-run nursing homes and assisted living facilities jeopardize the wellbeing of residents. If you notice substantial amounts of money disappearing from your mother’s bank account, or personal property is going missing from her room, someone at the facility may be exploiting her financially.
How You Can Respond to These Red Flags
If you have reason to believe that your loved one is a victim of nursing home or assisted living abuse, document as much evidence as you can and take steps to transfer him or her to another facility. Then contact an experienced elder abuse attorney who can help you pursue justice. At Inkelaar Law, we have years of experience in holding long-term care institutions responsible for acts of abuse against the elderly, and will help you and your loved one seek the compensation you deserve.