People are living longer and longer, which means more Americans are staying in nursing homes. As of 2014, there were 15,600 nursing homes and over 1 million nursing home residents nationally. Unfortunately, nursing home neglect and abuse are common problems facing the elderly population. How can people protect their family members from nursing home neglect and abuse? The first step is knowing the signs and symptoms.
Perhaps the most frequent nursing home neglect case that we handle are pressure ulcer cases. A pressure ulcer, also known as a “bed sore”, is an area of skin breakdown that forms due to moisture, limited mobility, excessive pressure, or friction. Pressure ulcers are described by color, size, and depth, and are graded in four stages. The worst pressure ulcers are stage IV and reach down to a patient’s bone. Stage IV pressure ulcers frequently result in lawsuits against nursing homes. Stage I and II ulcers generally do not result in lawsuits because they will eventually heal with proper care.
Elderly people have a substantial risk for developing bed sores because their skin is more fragile than young people. As such, nursing homes must take precautions to protect residents’ skin. Otherwise, they can develop wounds and serious infections. The standard way to prevent skin breakdown is to turn and reposition a nursing home resident at least every two hours. Additionally, nursing homes must change residents who are incontinent and frequently moist. Excessive moisture can make the skin boggy and fragile.
Excessive Falls and Accidents
Another common issue in nursing homes is excessive falls or accidents. Many elderly people have poor balance and safety awareness. Alzheimer’s and dementia patients may wander and not realize their inability to get around on their own safely. Nursing homes have a duty to protect such patients from injuring themselves. They can do so by placing at-risk residents closer to the nurse’s station, using wheelchair or bed alarms to alert staff when a resident is getting up, or special cushions to keep a resident from falling forward out of a wheelchair.
If a nursing home fails to keep a resident clean, you can bet that other issues are soon to follow. Poor hygiene is a sign that the nursing home is failing to provide even the most basic care, and robbing the resident of his or her dignity in old age. Further, poor hygiene can lead to more serious problems, such as infections. If a resident is not bathed frequently enough, bacteria can invade open skin. This is an especially severe problem if the resident has pressure ulcers. Poor resident hygiene is a clear sign that the nursing home does not have sufficient resources to care for its residents.
Sadly, we have seen multiple cases in which a resident’s family has discovered mysterious bruising on their loved one. In almost every case, this is the result of negligence, or even intentional conduct. If the nursing home staff can’t explain how an injury occurred, the issue requires further investigation.
Unexplained Weight Loss
If a family member is experiencing weight loss and there is no reason why it should be happening, suspect neglect. Insufficient staffing can cause poor nutrition in a nursing home. Many nursing home residents require specialized care such as assistance with feeding, or specialized foods if they have swallowing difficulties.
If you or a family member has been neglected or abused in a nursing home, you should call the appropriate state agency – either the state health department or nursing home ombudsman.