When your senior loved one requires specialized care that a nursing home can provide, you should be able to trust that they will receive the attention and support they deserve. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) estimates that around 90% of seniors living in a community or institutional setting have experienced some form of elder abuse in the past year. Of this abuse, non-physical types are the most prevalent cases; neglect being among the most common to occur in these facilities.
Neglect compromises the health and well-being of seniors and can result in malnutrition, psychological distress, depression, poor physical health, and increased disabilities (to name just a few). As such, it is important to continue advocating for your senior loved ones.
First and foremost, trust your instincts. If you have a gut feeling that something isn’t right, don’t ignore it. Your concerns are valid and should be addressed. In addition, here are 10 signs of neglect to look out for and what you can do next to take action.
A noticeable decline in personal hygiene can indicate that care needs are not being properly met. This can include things like unclean clothing, unwashed hair, or untreated wounds.
Keep an eye out for changes in your senior loved one’s physical health, specifically pertaining to their dietary intake. Unexplained weight loss can be a sign of malnutrition or dehydration
If your senior loved one consistently misses medication doses or experiences adverse effects from incorrect administration, this can be a sign that someone’s not doing their job. Ensure that medications are being administered as prescribed.
Social engagement should be at the forefront of most successful nursing homes, right next to medical needs. If your loved one appears withdrawn, depressed, or seems isolated, it could be a sign that they’re not getting the social interaction they need.
Look out for neglected living spaces, unattended spills, lack of proper maintenance, or unsanitary bathrooms. Living in unclean or hazardous environments can be a sign of neglect.
If you’re noticing things like untreated infections, wounds that won’t heal, or conditions that are inexplicably worsening, it may be because health issues are not being properly addressed.
Staff shortages happen – it’s an unfortunate sign of the times. But, if you consistently notice there aren’t enough staff around to keep your senior loved one safe and to provide quality care, then that can most definitely lead to neglect. It may not be completely intentional. But, nevertheless, it’s neglect.
If you’re seeing suspicious marks, cuts, bruises, or bedsores that staff cannot explain, it may be because of neglect or abuse. If unexplained injuries are of concern to you, be sure to also ask your senior loved one if they’re able to share how they happened.
Neglected seniors may not receive the support they require to perform basic tasks like sitting and standing, or walking down the hall. Does your senior loved one seem to need mobility support but is denied assistance or the use of canes, wheelchairs, or rollators?
Signs of emotional distress, such as increased anxiety, depression, or withdrawal, can indicate neglect. Pay attention to changes in their behavior and emotional well-being. If they’re usually social, do they still seem to crave social interaction in the way they always have?
If you observe any of these signs, it’s important to take action and advocate for your senior loved one’s health, safety, and well-being. Here are some of the most important steps to take:
Keep a detailed record of any signs, incidents, or red flags. Include dates, times, and clear descriptions of what you’ve observed. If you’ve addressed any of your documented concerns with nursing home staff, then be sure to include that information in your notes as well.
Keeping a record of what’s going on with your loved one, nursing home staff, and the facility will help if you end up needing to report anything. It can also help when addressing concerns with staff members.
You are the best advocate for your family members. Express your concerns to staff members or nursing home administration. Ask for explanations or request a formal investigation when appropriate. Although it’s best to stay calm, be assertive. Ask that any responses or resolutions also be documented in writing to keep for your record. Moving forward, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and maintain regular contact with the nursing home.
An ombudsman’s role is to listen to your concerns, investigate complaints, and work toward resolving issues. They are there to promote quality care and ensure that seniors’ rights are upheld. You can get in contact with an ombudsman in your area through the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center.
If the nursing home fails to address your concerns or you suspect immediate danger, contact local adult protective services or law enforcement to report the neglect (or other forms of abuse).
An elder law attorney can guide you on the appropriate legal steps to protect your senior loved one’s rights. They can also help you seek justice if the situation calls for it.
If you need additional help, start with these resources:
Originally published May 25, 2023
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