Recognizing the Signs of Nursing Home Neglect

Updated on June 24, 2022

Nursing homes and assisted care facilities have unfortunately been in the news quite a bit over the past few months during the coronavirus pandemic, and not in a positive way. 

Many of the deaths in the U.S. from the novel coronavirus have been in these facilities. In some states, nursing homes had to take patients back who were sick with the virus, leading the outbreaks. 

In addition, there have been concerns about nursing homes neglecting residents, often out of fear of catching coronavirus. Families haven’t been able to visit their loved ones because of the virus and restrictions on outsiders coming into these facilities, compounding the fears many have about how their loved ones are being cared for. 

If your loved one is in a nursing home or assisted living facility, it’s important to be aware of resident rights and signs of neglect or abuse. You should also be empowered and know what to do if you suspect these things are occurring, including contacting a lawyer for nursing home neglect.

Neglect vs. Abuse

While both can be harmful, there are differences between neglect and abuse. You might not be as easily able to notice the signs of neglect occurring. Recognizing elder abuse is difficult to discern.

Abuse is the willful infliction of harm or injury or mental anguish. Neglect means that there is a failure to provide the services and items necessary to avoid mental harm or physical anguish. 

Signs of negligence or neglect that could occur if your loved one is in a nursing home include:

  • Falls: Older people are more likely to fall because of mobility and balance issues. It’s important that a caregiver understands this risk, and helps elderly residents when they do need to go to the bathroom or get up for any reason. Neglect can increase the risk of broken bones, including broken hips. 
  • Medication problems: Medication mix-ups can be dangerous or deadly, and this is a common sign of neglect in nursing homes. Nursing homes may overmedicate unintentionally or even worse intentionally as a way to control residents. Overmedication can lead to falls or injuries, as well as many medical complications. Even an accidental error in medication can cause serious harm to nursing home residents. 
  • Pressure sores: also often referred to as bedsores, nursing home residents may spend a lot of their time in bed or perhaps in a wheelchair. As such, residents need to be regularly adjusted so they don’t develop pressure sores. Pressure sores are damaged skin that comes from being in one position for too long and if they aren’t treated, they can lead to infections or death. 

Red Flags of Neglect

Again, it can be tough to spot neglect—even more so than abuse. However, the following are some red flags you should keep an eye on if you have a loved one in a long-term care facility:

  • Poor personal hygiene. Nurses and nursing home staff are supposed to help residents with their hygiene, and many residents need that assistance. If neglect is occurring, there may be signs this help isn’t being given. 
  • Poor living conditions. Some of the issues relating to hygiene and infection control came to light during the coronavirus pandemic. A lot of nursing homes were scrutinized because they didn’t have the proper protocols in place to protect residents. 
  • Malnutrition and dehydration. It’s not uncommon for elderly people to suffer from malnutrition and dehydration from various causes, but it’s still important that the staff of a nursing home do their best to keep residents nourished and well-hydrated. 
  • Unexplained injuries. Unexplained injuries don’t necessarily indicate abuse, but they can mean neglect. 
  • Psychological symptoms: Sometimes, your elderly loved one may show red flags of neglect because of emotional side effects. For example, they may begin to suffer from depression or become fearful or angry. 

What Should You Do If You Suspect Abuse or Neglect?

If you think your loved one is in an emergency situation, you should call 911 immediately. Beyond that, if you think there’s been ongoing neglect or abuse, you have a few different options. 

You can use the eldercare locator, which is a service that can help you connect with the resources to report neglect or abuse. 

The National Center on Elder Abuse is another source of information. 

They can provide more information on how to report neglect or abuse.

You might want to take your loved one to see an independent doctor or health care provider. They can examine them for signs of abuse. 

In some situations, you may also need to contact local law enforcement. 

Once you’ve dealt with the immediate threat, you might consider contacting a lawyer. If your loved one has suffered neglect or injuries in a nursing home, you may be able to seek damages. 

These damages might include recovering medical expenses linked to the injury, such as hospitalization, physical therapy, and mental health services. 

Other damages may include the cost of moving your loved one to another facility or private residence. You could theoretically use that money to hire a caregiver in your home to take care of your loved one, so you don’t have to worry about putting them in another facility. 

Damages could also include estimated future medical costs, physical pain and suffering, and emotional distress. Punitive damages may also be recoverable. 

If you suspect you have any type of case, speak with a lawyer experienced in this area. 

If you’re currently at a time when you can’t visit your loved one because of the pandemic, there are other ways you can stay in contact. There are certain rights you have as a relative to information, including any potential coronavirus cases in the facility.

You can also ask to speak directly to your loved one via Skype or FaceTime so you can get a feel for their overall demeanor.  

It’s a difficult time if you love someone in a nursing home, but as your priority is to protect them, educate yourself on all the signs and steps you can take if you suspect neglect or abuse. 

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.