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Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

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Victims of nursing home abuse are often unable to speak out on their own behalf, and even those who can are often afraid to. Loved ones are the first line of defense for nursing home residents, and it’s important to know and watch for signs of elder neglect and elder abuse.

The Madison attorneys at Boller & Vaughan are dedicated to protecting the rights of seniors who reside in nursing homes and other assisted-living centers, and our lawyers have extensive experience in Wisconsin elder abuse cases. If you believe a loved one is a victim of nursing home abuse in Wisconsin, please call us today at 608-268-0268 or contact us online for a free, no-obligation consultation.

Types of Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes

There are many categories of elder abuse, but there are a few forms that are particularly common in nursing homes and assisted-living centers like community-based residential facilities (CBRFs):

  • Neglect: The failure to provide basic needs like water, food, hygiene assistance, clean clothing and living conditions, and necessary health care
  • Emotional or psychological abuse: The infliction of mental anguish or distress through verbal means such as humiliation, threats or harassment, or nonverbal means such as ignoring or isolating the victim
  • Physical abuse: The intentional use of physical force that causes bodily harm
  • Sexual abuse: Any nonconsensual sexual contact
  • Financial exploitation: Improper or illegal use of the victim’s funds, personal property or other assets

There are distinct signs associated with each form of elder abuse. Some of these indicators are subtle while others are obvious, and many of these signs are shared among the different categories of elder abuse.

Signs of Neglect

Indicators that a nursing home resident may be a victim of neglect include:

  • Bed sores—also referred to as pressure ulcers—caused by extended periods of sitting or laying down
  • Behavioral changes, such as social withdrawal
  • Dehydration or malnourishment
  • Poor personal hygiene (bad breath, body odor, dirty clothing, lack of grooming)
  • Recurring illnesses or infections
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Unclean living conditions (dirty bedding, unsanitary room and/or bathroom)

Neglect is differentiated from abuse by intent. Abuse is defined by an intent to cause harm. In cases of neglect, harm is the result of a caregiver’s failure to deliver basic needs or other necessary services, such as prescription medication.

Signs of Emotional or Psychological Abuse

Warning signs of emotional or psychological elder abuse include:

  • Behavioral changes, such as sudden agitation, depression or social withdrawal
  • Fearfulness of caregivers or other staff members
  • Loss of appetite
  • Self-destructive behavior such as failing to use lifestyle or medical aids including dentures, hearing aids, eyeglasses, or walkers

In some instances of emotional abuse, the victim will exhibit behaviors associated with dementia, including finger biting, thumbsucking and rocking compulsively.

Signs of Physical Abuse

Signs of physical elder abuse include:

  • Abrasions or bruising around the wrists or ankles, which may indicate the use of restraints
  • Broken bones
  • Evidence of overmedication or insufficient medication
  • Sudden changes in behavior, such as anxiety or social withdrawal
  • Torn or bloodied clothing or bedding
  • Unexplained bruises, cuts or other minor injuries
  • Untreated injuries or medical problems

It’s important to note that physical abuse is not limited to single, physical acts of violence. Physical abuse can also include the unreasonable use of restraints, overmedicating a resident, or withholding medication or medical treatment from a resident.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

Common indicators of elder sexual abuse include:

  • Anxiety around certain caregivers or staff members, particularly concerning bathing, bathroom assistance or dressing
  • Bleeding from the anus or vagina
  • Bruises or marks around the breasts, buttocks or genitals
  • Bruising or abrasions around the wrists or ankles, indicating the use of restraints
  • Torn, bloody or stained undergarments or bedding
  • Sudden behavioral changes, such as fearfulness, depression or social withdrawal
  • Sudden difficulty walking or discomfort when sitting
  • Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases or genital infections

Sexual abuse may also include coerced nudity, or the taking of sexually explicit photos or video.

Signs of Financial Exploitation

Warning signs of elder financial abuse include:

  • Addition of new authorized secondary signers for financial accounts
  • Changes to legal documents, such as alterations to the power of attorney or adjustments to a will
  • Disappearance of personal possessions or cash on hand
  • Inclusion of a caregiver’s name on bank cards or financial accounts
  • Redirection of financial records to a new address
  • Requests for additional bank cards or credit cards
  • Sudden changes from regular banking habits
  • Sudden confusion about financial accounts and financial transactions
  • Unexplained financial withdrawals or sudden overdraft fees

Examples of elder financial exploitation include forging the individual’s signature, stealing cash or possessions, and coercing the individual to sign financial documents.

What to Do if You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse

If you believe an elderly loved one is in immediate danger, call 911 or local law enforcement.

If you suspect financial exploitation or the non-emergency mistreatment of an elderly loved one, contact your county’s Elder Adults At-Risk Help Line, which is a service administered by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. You may also contact Wisconsin’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman, which responds to complaints and problems regarding recipients of long-term care in centers like nursing homes and CBRFs.

Reporting suspected elder neglect or elder abuse is the first step toward protecting your loved one and others from further harm. When it comes to nursing homes and other assisted-living facilities, there is often more than one victim.

It is also advisable to discuss your situation with an attorney who has experience in elder abuse cases. A knowledgeable elder abuse lawyer can help ensure that your claim is properly investigated and that important evidence is preserved. An attorney can also help you pursue financial compensation for related damages including medical expenses.

Boller & Vaughan has earned a reputation throughout Wisconsin and across the country for our attorneys’ success in nursing home neglect and abuse cases. If you believe a loved one is a victim of neglect or abuse in a Wisconsin nursing home or assisted-living center, please call our Madison office today at 608-268-0268 or contact us online today.

We offer free consultations to help you understand your options, and our attorneys work on a contingent-fee basis, which means you don’t pay for our services until we recover compensation on your behalf.

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