When putting your loved one into a nursing home, you expect that they will receive the care they need after an illness, fall, or when they can no longer take care of themselves. Unfortunately, abuse and neglect can and do happen in nursing homes. What constitutes as neglect and abuse? How do you tell if it is happening to your loved one? When do you need a lawyer?
Neglect is a breach of duty or subpar care that results in harm to the patient. Types of neglect include emotional or social neglect, personal hygiene neglect, basic needs neglect, and medical neglect. An example of neglect in a nursing home is when a patient’s position is not changed on a regular basis to prevent pressure sores. Another example is when precautions repeatedly are not taken with a patient who tends to fall.
Abuse is defined as to treat a person with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly (physical abuse) or to speak in an insulting and offensive way to or about someone (mental/social abuse). An example of physical abuse is if a nurse/caretaker is routinely rough with a patient when changing or dressing them and this causes irritation of the skin, bruises or breaks. Examples of mental/emotional abuse are when a caregiver/nurse speaks down to a patient, calls them names, etc.
Multiple illnesses and injuries can occur from neglect and abuse such as dehydration, malnutrition, infections, pressure sores, falls, and fractures.
Dehydration is when there is an excessive loss of water. This condition disrupts the body’s normal functions. When an elderly person loses more liquids than they take in, this leads to dehydration. The elderly are less thirsty and have deteriorated kidney function which makes them less able to conserve liquids.
Symptoms of dehydration can be very subtle but serious. Signs of dehydration are confusion and disorientation, drop in blood pressure, skin that won’t bounce back, trouble using the bathroom, and exhaustion and changes in mood.
Malnutrition is the most wide-spread health issue in nursing homes. When an elderly person is not eating enough or not eating enough of the correct foods, or they are not getting the recommended daily value of vitamins, malnutrition will occur.
Physical symptoms of malnutrition include:
Mouth Signs: The mouth may become bright red with canker sores, thrush, or white patches on the cheeks and tongue.
Muscular Problems: Muscles become flaccid due to the body using up nutrients it is not receiving from food.
Eye signs: Vision may worsen and eyes may become glassy, red, or the corneas may become swollen.
Cognitive difficulties: Elderly may become listless or irritable or be unable to think clearly. In extreme cases, dementia and confusion may occur.
Skin issues: Skin may become wrinkled and yellow.
There are many types of infections the elderly can contract while in a nursing home; if untreated these infections can lead to death. Some of the most common infections are Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), urinary tract infections (UTI), pneumonia, staph infections and influenza.
MRSA is a skin infection in which bacteria enters the bloodstream. It can do this through a cut or sore on the skin, breathing tubes, and catheters. It can be extremely dangerous if it becomes a blood infection.
A UTI is a bacterial infection that can be difficult to diagnose. In younger people, pain when urinating is usually present; however, the elderly typically don’t experience this. Incontinence, confusion, sudden behavior changes, and worsening of dementia are the most common symptoms. Elderly that use catheters or wear briefs and not drink enough fluid are at an increased risk of a UTI.
Pneumonia is a lung infection that can range from mild to severe and at times can become fatal. The most common way for seniors to contract pneumonia is from themselves. Bacteria are carried in our noses and throats and elders cannot clear secretions from their lungs as well as younger people. These secretions travel down their bronchial tubes and the area fills with puss and other liquids preventing the lungs from functioning properly. Sepsis (bloodstream infection) and fluid and infection around the lungs are complications associated with pneumonia.
Influenza, also known as the flu, is very dangerous for the elderly. They have a weakened immune system and sometimes other health issues. Influenza spreads easily and quickly through nursing homes through sneezing and coughing.
Infections in nursing homes are common but when they are not properly cared for, they can turn deadly. Alerting staff members immediately if you notice any signs or symptoms of these infections or if your love one is acting strangely can prevent the infections from becoming deadly.
Pressure sores, also called pressure ulcers or bed sores, are common in people who have a medical condition that limits or prevent their ability to change positions without assistance. This includes people who are limited to a wheelchair or bed. The sores typically occur in areas where the skin covers bony parts of the body such as heels, ankles, tailbone, and hips.
Symptoms of a bed sore are unusual changes in skin color or texture, swelling, puss-like draining, tender areas, and/or areas that feel warmer or cooler to the touch. There are four stages of a bed sore based on severity, size, depth, and other characteristics. Most bed sores can be treated; however, some never heal and can move to the bone and muscle.
Falls can cause broken bones, head injuries and fear of falling. Conditions that can cause the elderly to fall are weakness in the lower body, vitamin D deficiency, balance issues, medications, vision problems, foot pain and/or poor footwear.
Preventing falls can be done easily especially if nursing home staff are aware of any of the above conditions. If you feel that the nursing home is not taking proper precautions, alert them immediately.
Broken hips and other fractures
Broken hips and other fractures can occur during a fall or if a staff member is not careful with an elderly patient. Broken hips and fractures in the legs and feet put the elderly patient at risk of another fall and can also affect their mobility.
Common areas of fractures in elderly patients in the nursing home population include hip fractures, thigh fractures, pelvic fractures, back or vertebrae fractures, arm and hand fractures, and ankle or leg fractures.
Staph infections and sepsis
Staph is bacteria that is found on the skin and in the nose of all people. The bacteria do not normally cause problems but if they go deeper into your body (bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs, or heart) can develop into a life-threatening infection. A staph infection can show up as skin infections (boils, impetigo, and cellulitis), food poisoning, bacteremia (blood poisoning that affects internal organs, bones and muscles, and surgically implanted devices), toxic shock syndrome, and septic arthritis.
Boils: This is the most common type of staph. Boils occur most often under the arms or around the groin or buttocks. A hair follicle or oil gland becomes filled with pus.
Impetigo: This is a very contagious and painful rash with large blisters that ooze fluid.
Cellulitis: This is an infection in the deeper layers of skin causing redness and swelling on the surface of the skin. Also has large blisters like impetigo.
Sepsis is a blood infection that can occur if a staph infection or MRSA is not caught and treated promptly. Unfortunately, Sepsis has many different symptoms that look like other illnesses/infections.
Symptoms may include:
Fever, chills or sweats, Redness, soreness, or swelling in any area, including surgical wounds and ports Diarrhea and/or vomiting, Sore throat, cough or nasal congestion, New sore in the mouth, Shortness of breath, Stiff neck, Unusual vaginal discharge or irritation, New onset of pain, Changes in skin, urination, or mental status, Shivering, fever, or very cold, Extreme pain and discomfort, Clammy or sweaty skin, Confusion or disorientation, Short of breath, High heart rate
If sepsis is caught early on, the patient can be treated and survive. If not caught in time, the results can be deadly.
Injuries sustained during elopement
Elopement (wandering off) is common among those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. These patients are at a high risk of injury. Wandering can occur due to medical conditions, change in medications, unwelcome change, or a new living setting being overwhelming.
What To Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect
Determining if abuse, neglect, or both are happening to your loved one is very important. Also, very important is determining if you need to contact an abuse lawyer to help with your case. If your loved one suffers from injury, reoccurring illness, pressure sores that reoccur or don’t heal, disability or even death, you need to seek legal representation.
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