As the number of nursing homes across the United States continues to grow, the problem of nursing home abuse and neglect grows concurrently. Many nursing homes are understaffed and underfunded; administrators may take shortcuts in nutrition, hygiene, and safety standards, hiring unqualified staff and leaving residents unmonitored for long periods of time. It’s important to monitor your loved one’s living conditions at a nursing home on a regular basis; if you live too far away to make regular (at least weekly) visits, then recruit a friend who lives in the area to make visits for you.
Nursing home abuse is sometimes willful and deliberate, with administrators and staff knowingly putting their residents at risk in their effort to cut corners. Indeed, physical and sexual abuse also occurs. However, most cases of abuse can be attributed to simple neglect; staff members may not have the time, the skills, or the interest to treat nursing home residents with the care they deserve. Simple neglect, in the absence of sinister motives, is often overlooked and eventually results in the decline of the general health of all residents.
The most obvious and immediate form of neglect is physical neglect, affecting residents in a variety of ways. Personal hygiene is a routine that we may take for granted — the simple acts of bathing once or twice a day, brushing one’s teeth, and changing into fresh clothes are habits that we can’t avoid. However, many elderly nursing home residents begin to lose their ability to manage “activities of daily living,” or ADLs, and require assistance several times a day in this regard. It is the responsibility of the nursing home staff to offer assistance to those who need it. If you believe that your loved one’s personal hygiene is suffering because of neglect, then complain loudly.
Neglect can also lead to malnutrition and dehydration. It is the staff’s responsibility to ensure that all residents have sufficient water or other liquids, and are served meals on a regular basis, whether two times or three times a day. However, some residents may lose the ability to request water if they’re thirsty; if they’re suffering from dementia, they may forget to eat, especially if they routinely make their own way to a central cafeteria during meal times rather than rely on room service. If you believe your loved one isn’t eating or drinking enough, then arrange for a staff member to visit his or room several times each day to ensure there’s an adequate supply of drinking water. And arrange for room service for meals, or to have a staff member escort your loved one to the cafeteria. If he or she is refusing to eat, then consult with a doctor.
A safe and clean environment is extremely important for the health of nursing home residents; if you notice that the nursing home is routinely filthy or infested with pests and vermin, then consider either reporting the conditions to state authorities or moving your loved one to a different nursing home.
Medical neglect, sadly, is quite common in nursing homes, particularly crowded homes that are understaffed. If a resident is in a prone or seated position for long periods of time without moving, he or she is at risk of developing bed sores, or pressure sores. These can be avoided with regular daily exercise, or at least frequent shifting around; residents who are less mobile should be inspected regularly for bed sores, as they can become dangerously infected if left untreated. Likewise, simple cuts and bruises, from falls for instance, should be treated immediately and tended until they’ve healed; seniors in poor health are at greater risk of infection from untreated wounds than the young and healthy. And exercise, too, is important, as far as a resident is capable of participating. Make sure that your nursing home schedules regular fitness activities and ensures the participation of all who are able. If your nursing home does not offer physical fitness, or you get the impression that the staff does not want to bother, then look for another nursing home.
The administering of medicine is a central responsibility of all nursing homes, but an overworked staff member can easily make a mistake and give the wrong medicine to the wrong patient, or administer excessive dosages. Be sure to check your nursing home’s procedures for administering medication, and if you notice any sudden changes in your loved one’s physical health or behavior, then consult with the nursing staff immediately. If you believe they’ve botched the medication, you may want to request blood tests. It occasionally happens that staff members — with the blessing of their supervisors — deliberately administer excessive antipsychotic drugs to “problem” residents. Such behavior, however, is criminal rather than simply negligent.
Finally, emotional neglect can be just as just as devastating to a nursing home resident as physical neglect; however, such neglect is more difficult to detect. Nursing home employees, particularly in crowded and understaffed facilities, can quickly become jaded; they may become overstressed, or simply start looking upon residents as part of their job rather than as human beings. As a result, friendly, human interaction between staff and residents drops off, in turn leading residents to seal themselves off as well, withdrawing from whatever social activities may be offered. Eventually, residents can fall into clinical depression or worse. If you sense that the vibe at your loved one’s nursing home is less than friendly, consider shopping around for a better managed facility.
Victims of nursing home abuse and neglect are often reluctant to step forward and voice their grievances. Communication, therefore, becomes vital in rectifying the situation. If you sense that something is amiss, make the effort to draw out your loved one, learning what the specific problem might be, and then direct any concerns to the appropriate administrators. If neglect is endemic, then look for another nursing home. Depending on the nature of the neglect, you may also have legal options.