Scales of Justice

Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

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Hundreds of thousands of instances of elder abuse are reported each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the CDC estimates that the actual number of those age 65 and older who experience abuse is likely in the millions because many elder abuse victims are either unable or unwilling to discuss their circumstances. This is why it’s important to understand the different categories of elder abuse and to be vigilant for signs that a loved one may be suffering.

Types of Nursing Home Abuse

Elder abuse comes in many forms, but there are a few types to which nursing home residents are particularly vulnerable:

  • Physical abuse: The intentional infliction of physical harm or denial of basic needs
  • Emotional/psychological abuse: Mental anguish or distress caused by verbal acts such as intimidation or humiliation, or nonverbal acts such as ignoring or isolating the individual
  • Sexual abuse: Nonconsensual sexual contact
  • Financial exploitation: Taking, misusing or concealing funds, assets or personal property
  • Neglect: Failure to provide adequate food, water, clean living conditions, necessary health care, or other needs

Each category of nursing home abuse is accompanied by a varied set of indicators, which can range from subtle to obvious, and some of which overlap.

Signs of Physical Abuse

Some common warning signs of physical nursing home abuse include:

  • Bruises, abrasions, burns or other injuries that are unexplained or incompatible with provided explanations
  • Injuries that reflect the use of objects like belts, straps or hands to restrain or harm
  • Recurring infections
  • Torn or bloodied clothing
  • Untreated medical problems
  • Dehydration or malnourishment
  • Sudden fear of nursing home staff
  • Sudden depression or social withdrawal

Physical abuse is not limited to overt acts of violence, such as pushing, shaking or striking a resident. Physical abuse can also include the inappropriate use of restraints or medication.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Indicators of emotional or psychological abuse include:

  • Fearfulness of caregivers
  • Sudden depression or social withdrawal
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Heightened sense of agitation or disorientation
  • Episodes of emotional distress, such as crying

Behaviors sometimes associated with dementia, including rocking, thumbsucking or finger biting, can also be symptomatic of emotional abuse.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

Signs of nonconsensual sexual contact include:

  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area
  • Unexplained venereal disease or infection of the genitalia
  • Torn, stained or bloody undergarments

Sexual abuse is not limited to unwanted physical contact. It may also include nudity that has been coerced, or sexually explicit photographs or video.

Signs of Neglect

Warning signs that a nursing home resident is a victim of neglect include:

  • Bed sores, also known as pressure ulcers, caused by prolonged periods of laying or sitting
  • Poor personal hygiene, including dirty clothing, unkempt hair, body odor or bad breath
  • Unsanitary living conditions
  • Dehydration or malnourishment
  • Sudden weight loss

Neglect is distinguished from outright abuse by intent. In instances of abuse, there is an intent to cause harm; in instances of neglect, harm is caused by the failure of a caregiver to provide basic needs or other agreed-upon services, such as the administration of medication.

Signs of Financial Exploitation

Indicators of elder financial exploitation include:

  • Confusion about finances and recent financial transactions
  • Deviations from typical banking habits
  • Requests for additional banking cards
  • Opening of a joint account, alteration of the power of attorney, or the changing of an account beneficiary
  • Sudden property transfers or changes to a will
  • Addition of new authorized signers to banking accounts or cards
  • Financial records redirected to a new address
  • Unaccounted financial withdrawals or sudden overdraft fees

Common examples of financial abuse include cashing checks without authorization, forging the signature of an elderly victim, coercing or deceiving an elderly victim into signing financial documentation.

Seeking Help for Nursing Home Abuse

If you believe a loved one is in immediate physical danger, you should call 911, local law enforcement or your state’s division of Adult Protective Services.

Once your loved one’s safety has been ensured, it’s advisable to discuss your case with an experienced nursing home abuse attorney, who may be able to help hold the responsible parties accountable, prevent future instances of abuse, and help you and your family achieve the peace of mind you deserve.

With offices in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, the attorneys at Carr & Carr are ready to help you take immediate action. If you suspect a loved one is a victim of nursing home abuse in Oklahoma, please contact us online or call 866-510-0580 to schedule your free consultation.


Alzheimer’s Association; Caregiver Center: Abuse; https://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-elder-abuse.asp

American Association of Retired Persons; How to Advocate for Parents in Nursing Homes; http://www.aarp.org/relationships/caregiving/info-04-2012/caregiving-resource-center-advocate-nursing-home.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Elder Abuse Prevention; http://www.cdc.gov/features/elderabuse/

National Council for Aging Care; Aging in Place: Recognizing Elder Abuse and Knowing Your Rights; http://www.aginginplace.org/guide-to-recognizing-elder-abuse/

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