Nursing home injuries: A more common threat than many families realize

Research indicates that a large number of nursing home residents fall victim to direct abuse or negligent treatment, along with related physical injuries.

Placing the health and well-being of an elderly loved one in the hands of a third party is never an easy decision. Many families in Pittsburgh take solace in knowing that their loved ones will enjoy better care and long-term health in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Sadly, though, this isn't always the reality. A large proportion of elderly adults may suffer physical neglect, abuse and injuries in these settings.

Mistreatment not uncommon

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, determining how frequently nursing home neglect and abuse occurs can be difficult for a few reasons. Victims may fail to come forward due to fear or an inability to report the abuse. Professionals who are overworked or undertrained may fail to recognize physical warning signs, and so may family members. One study estimates that just 1 in 14 cases of abuse are ever reported.

Considering this, current statistics on elder abuse are especially disturbing. Recent studies have produced the following findings:

  • The average study indicates that between 7.6 and 10 percent of participants have fallen victim to some form of non-financial abuse in the last year.
  • One study found that 44 percent of nursing home residents reported directly experiencing abuse.
  • According to the same study, 95 percent of residents had been neglected or witnessed the negligent treatment of another resident.

Tragically, the most vulnerable older adults may be the most likely to suffer abuse. Research shows that disabled elderly adults suffer from higher rates of physical abuse than their peers. Given this steep risk of mistreatment, it is imperative that family members know and watch for common indications of negligent or abusive behaviors.

Detecting abuse and neglect

Neglect and abuse may cause direct injuries or physical warning signs. According to the Administration on Aging, family members should be alert to mild signs of physical distress, including bruises, abrasions and pressure marks. Families should also appreciate the possibility that serious injuries, such as burns or fractures, may represent deliberate physical abuse.

Family members additionally should pay attention to falls or related injuries, which may indicate abuse or inadequate supervision. Data shows that nursing home falls occur frequently and often have serious consequences. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 10 and 20 percent of these falls result in serious injuries. Tragically, these falls also claim the lives of about 1,800 nursing home residents across the U.S. each year.

Finally, family members should watch for health conditions or injuries that may stem from routine neglect. These include malnutrition, dehydration, bedsores and poor hygiene. Many of these conditions may cause life-threatening complications. They also can leave older adults more vulnerable to the effects of injuries, infections or other health issues.

Addressing abuse

People who suspect that an elderly family member is suffering abuse can report it to the Pennsylvania Adult Protective Services agency. If danger is imminent, family members should contact local authorities immediately. Family members should also consider consulting with an attorney. An attorney may be able to provide advice on reporting the abuse and seeking recourse for any lingering physical or emotional consequences.

Keywords: nursing home, abuse, neglect