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What to Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse

If you notice the signs of nursing home abuse, such as unexplained injuries, lassitude or unresponsiveness, sudden change in weight, obvious signs of poor hygiene, or out-of-the-ordinary behaviors, these signs of nursing home abuse should not be ignored.

By law, the management is required to address any concerns you may have about the care of your elderly parent or relative, and in fact must have a written policy regarding this issue. You and the resident should ask for this at the time your loved one makes the final decision about a nursing home, take the time and become familiar with it.

Take Note

Of course, if you observe signs of nursing home abuse or nursing home neglect, you should ask your loved one about the situation. Be aware, however, that even patients who are mentally capable of recognizing the problem and telling someone about it may be reluctant to do so. In some cases, it can be due to fear of retribution from the abuser, and in others it can be due to a misplaced sense of loyalty to nursing home staff, not wanting to be seen as a complainer, or the idea that people should keep a "stiff upper lip" and accept what happens to them.
If when you visit a resident during posted visiting hours a staff member either refuses to allow the visit or delays it – or refuses to leave you alone in the room with the resident – your first step is to discuss this with the facility manager or supervisor. Even if this is not possible during your visit, you should at least leave a note and then follow up with a telephone call at the earliest opportunity.

Be Calm

Unless you have reason to believe the resident's life is in imminent danger (in which case you need to call 911 immediately), it's best to confront the nursing home's administration first.

Remember that although you are not taking legal action (yet), the presumption of innocence until proven guilty still applies. Although it is an emotional issue, it is vital that you address the manager or supervisor calmly and professionally – and allow this person to offer explanations or offer to investigate your concerns.

If the explanation is unsatisfactory or the resident's condition fails to improve or even worsens, your next step is to contact the appropriate state agency and file a complaint. Every state has an Adult Protective Services department; you can find this information on the website of the National Council on Aging or by calling 1-800-677-1116. You should also contact a nursing home abuse lawyer to discuss the situation and what possible legal steps you can take.

References:

Bridgman, Andrew and Miranda Hitti. "How To Find a Good Nursing Home." Consumer Reports, August 2006.

Sadler, Paul. "Confronting Elder Abuse: An Aged Care Industry Response." Aged and Community Services Australia, March 2006.

U.S. Administration on Aging. "Frequently Asked Questions." http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/ncearoot/Main_Site/FAQ/Questions.aspx (accessed January 15, 2010).