What to Do if You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect

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Posted by Pressley Henningsen

Image of Nursing Home old woman in a nursing home

As an attorney who specializes in handling nursing home abuse and neglect cases, I know that abuse or neglect of the elderly is one of the most under-reported issues in the United States.  Every year, millions of cases go unreported and those individuals continue to be mistreated.

Because we have not, as a society, educated the public enough about this matter, many people don’t know what signs and symptoms to look for.  Other times, people notice the abuse or neglect but fail to report it to the proper authorities.   Knowing what warning signs to look for and who to report the abuse to can help protect the elderly of our community.  We owe this to our elders. They should not be forgotten.

Types of Elder Abuse and Neglect

Abuse and neglect of the elderly can take many forms:

  1. Physical abuse – this can include hitting, striking, or pushing an elderly person. It can also include improper use of restraints or using drugs or confinement as punishment.Signs include:
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Welts
  • Broken bones
  • Dislocations
  • Rope burns or marks on wrists
  • Broken eyeglasses
  1. Emotional abuse – any verbal or nonverbal abuse that causes emotional upset. This can include yelling, threatening or humiliating the individual, or keeping the individual from seeing friends and family.This type of abuse is a violation of a person’s rights.  It is also particularly difficult to expose and can have devastating affects due to the underlying conditions of dementia, Alzheimer’s or emotional conditions. Direct complaints from the elderly about someone being mean to them should not be simply written off as confusion.Signs include:
  • Agitation
  • Becomes withdrawn
  • Seems depressed
  • Rocking back and forth
  1. Sexual abuse – any sexual contact with the elder without the elder’s consent. This includes watching or being forced to participate in sexual acts.Signs include:
  • Bruises
  • Torn or bloody underclothing
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Fear of staff or a particular gender – statistically most sexual abuse is committed by males
  1. Financial abuse – many seniors are easily scammed by a caregiver or outside scam artist, who steals the individual’s money or property for themselves.Signs include:
  • Unpaid bills
  • Large withdrawals from the person’s accounts
  • Changes to legal documents
  • A family member or friend who is showing an unusual interest in the elderly person that is inconsistent with past behavior
  1. Healthcare fraud and abuse – committed by healthcare workers who can overcharge for care, charging for healthcare that was not provided, overmedicating or under-medicating the elder, or commit Medicaid/Medicare fraudSigns include:
  • overmedication or under-medication
  • duplicate billings for the same service
  • evidence of inadequate or missing care – including everything from physical therapy or occupational therapy  to  hair appointments that didn’t take place but were billed for
  1. Neglect – the failure to provide necessary care. Neglect can be “active” (done with intent) or “passive” (occurred without intent).  It just means not meeting the needs of the elderly.Signs include:
  • Losing weight
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Skin rashes
  • Bedsores
  • Other untreated medical conditions
  • Improper medication administration

As you can see, there are far too many different ways that the elderly can be abused.  Because there is such an array of ways someone could be injured, it can be difficult to tell when someone is being abused or neglected.

If you are concerned about the type of care an elderly person is receiving, say something.   If you believe someone is in serious and immediate danger, call 911.  If there is no immediate danger, you can contact the Iowa Department of Human Services and file a report.  Keep it true, factual, and to the point, and let the State do their investigation.

If you have more questions about the neglect or abuse of the elderly in Iowa, you can download our free Law Guide to Iowa Nursing Home Abuse Claims or call us, Iowa Nursing Home Lawyers, at 1-319-519-4193.

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