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Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing home abuse is a horrifying reality happening in our communities and affecting our senior citizens. When we place our elder loved ones in a nursing home, we expect staff members to treat them with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. With over 15,000 nursing homes housing 1.7 million licensed beds across the United States as of 2016 and current residents totaling upwards of 1.3 million as of 2015, nursing homes and staff need to be held accountable for how they care for our older generations. Therefore, it's crucial to understand what nursing home abuse is, the different types of abuse, signs of abuse, and how to prevent it.

What is Nursing Home Abuse?

The Administration on Aging, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defines elder abuse as "any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult."

A long-term study showed that elder abuse victims are twice as likely to die prematurely than individuals who have not suffered from elder abuse. Nursing home abuse, which refers to elder abuse in a nursing home, can lead to serious physical injuries, emotional harm, and even death.

Types of Nursing Home Abuse

There are different types of elder abuse in nursing homes, including physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

Physical Abuse

Physical neglect includes anything that deprives residents of their primary needs for survival and dignity, including food, warmth, shelter, and a sanitary environment. Physical abuse in nursing homes happens whenever a resident suffers bodily harm, pain, or impairment because of mistreatment or neglect. Physical abuse can consist of:

  • Active abuse (hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, etc.)

  • Physical neglect

  • The misuse of restraints

In nursing homes, staff members are only supposed to use restraints for medical reasons and for a short time. Keeping restraints on patients for long periods can reduce muscle tone and bone mass and cause muscle disorders and other serious injuries.

Nursing home caregivers, visiting family members, and other residents are the primary abusers in nursing homes. Studies show that physical abuse is often committed as a form of retaliation by nursing home staff against physically aggressive patients acting out often due to dementia and other conditions resulting in mental decline.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse generally refers to any non-physical abuse, including:

  • Insults

  • Harassment

  • Yelling

  • Threats

Emotional abuse can also include depriving a patient of their dignity, for example, by leaving them in soiled clothes or refusing to allow them to make choices over daily decisions. According to a World Health Organization study from 2020, emotional abuse is the most common type of elder abuse. Almost a third of all nursing home employees have admitted to emotionally abusing a patient.


Neglect refers to a caretaker's failure to provide food, shelter, medical care, or protection. General and medical neglect can lead to:

  • Bedsores

  • Infections

  • Sepsis

  • Dehydration

  • Malnutrition

Neglect is different from abuse in that it usually refers to an unintentional act. An example of neglect is if a nursing home resident wanders from the premises and dies from hypothermia while lost outside. Another example is when a nursing home employee fails to change a resident's position in bed and, as a result, the resident develops bedsores.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is any non-consensual sexual contact. Unfortunately, this type of abuse is a prevalent form of elder abuse. Common signs of sexual abuse include bruises around the breasts or genital areas and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases.

Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation refers to the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds or property. Older people, particularly those with dementia or cognitive decline, are particularly susceptible to financial fraud, and criminals know this.

In July 2021, a nursing home employee in Pennsylvania was convicted of stealing more than $500,000 from residents of a nursing home. The man stole checks from the residents and then forged their signatures and cashed them at various banks.

Click HERE to read more and learn about signs that someone may be abusing your elderly loved one or follow this link:

This blog post is an excerpt from a post by Levin and Perconti Attorneys at Law.

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