How to Identify and Prevent Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes

Doctor mistreating senior woman in nursing home

Elder abuse is one of the most underreported and often misunderstood forms of crime. A June 2022 World Health Organization (WHO) report states that nursing homes and long-term care facilities abuse older people at high rates, with 2 in 3 staff admitting they have committed abuse in the past year. This is predicted to get even worse as the aging population grows in more countries. 

In fact, based on figures from the National Center on Elder Abuse, there were 52.4 million Americans aged 65 and over in 2018. It is expected that by 2040, that number will reach 80 million, or nearly 21% of the total population.

According to data from the National Center on Elder Abuse, the number of seniors aged 85 and older will nearly triple by 2060. The report further adds that for the first time, older Americans are expected to outnumber children in 2034. Increasing numbers of older adults are believed to be due to declining fertility rates and the aging of the baby boom generation.

In a related stats, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) reports that 5,000,000 elders are abused each year, which is why it’s important that you learn how to recognize and prevent abuse from happening to your loved one.

The thought of a loved one being abused in a retirement facility can be devastating, especially if they’re not able to speak up or their speech is impaired due to old age. 

Therefore, when you are choosing a rest home for a loved one, you want to ensure it is a good nursing home where your aged loved one will be protected from any elder mistreatment. Unfortunately, many people do not realize that there is potential for elder abuse in nursing homes until it is too late.

This article provides some highlights about what elderly abuse in nursing homes can look like and what steps you can take to avoid it. First. let’s be clear on what is elder abuse?

What is elder abuse in nursing homes?

First. let’s be clear on what is elder abuse?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines elder abuse as “any intentional act or failure to act” that harms or threatens the wellbeing of an older adult. Those over 60 and above are considered older adults, and abuse is often committed by a caregiver or family member the elder trusts.

The term “elder abuse” often describes a wide range of behaviors that have been shown to have negative effects on the health and well-being of older adults. These behaviors can include physical abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, or isolation. 

Nursing homes are places where older adults are often vulnerable because of their medical conditions and impairments. These old folk care homes are required by state laws to treat residents with dignity and respect, but sometimes they fail to do so. This may result in elder abuse in nursing homes.

One in 10 community-living older adults experienced abuse in the prior year, according to a research report by the National Center on Elder Abuse. 

Elderly people who have been abused can experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems as well as physical injuries caused by their abusers’ actions. The National Center on Elder Abuse list other impacts of elder mistreatment as:

  • Poor physical health
  • Diminished psychological wellness
  • Loss of self-esteem and compromised sense of self-worth
  • Feelings of shame and guilt
  • Increased morbidity and mortality
  • Increased hospitalization and mortality
  • Cognitive decline
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Lower quality of life
  • Functional impairment etc. 

What are the 6 types of elder abuse? 

There are many elder abuse types, but most fall into one of three categories: 

  • Psychological: Any action or comment that causes emotional distress or mental pain to an older person with the intent to psychologically harm, intimidate, or embarrass them.
  • Physical: Any intentional use of physical force or assault that causes physical pain, harm, injury, or bruises such as hitting, shaking, burning, choking, non-consensual sexual contact, and similar types of elder abuse.
  • Financial: Acts that take advantage of an elderly person by stealing money from them or taking advantage of their financial situation. 

More broadly speaking, there are 6 forms of elder abuse. 

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is any action that intentionally causes physical pain or injury to an older individual. Common examples include hitting, slapping, or shaking an older person; pushing them to the ground; or dragging them across the floor. 

Physical elder abuse may also involve throwing objects at an older person, leading to injury or even broken bones. Sometimes, the abuse is unintentional. In other cases, it may be an intentional act and premeditated. 


Neglect occurs when someone fails to meet a standard of care for an individual in their care who has a mental or physical impairment that could be corrected by appropriate attention, supervision, and human services. 

Elder neglect can include failing to provide proper nutrition, medical care, or safety equipment to an older adult; failing to provide supervision over finances or other decisions affecting the older adult’s life, and failing to make important medical appointments on time.


Self-neglect is the failure to provide for one’s own basic physical needs, such as eating and bathing. Self-neglect can also include actions that cause harm to an elder’s health or safety. Many victims were susceptible to self-neglect abuse because they have memory loss, cognitive impairment, and diminished mental capacity.


Abandonment is one of the most common forms of elder abuse in nursing homes, and it occurs when an older adult is alone left without proper care, food, or water, locked in a room without access to necessary medical care, or forced to live in filthy conditions. This can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and even death. Many older adults who are victims of this type of abuse may not be able to speak up for themselves due to fear or embarrassment, so they might have no idea that something is wrong until it’s too late.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse is a form of financial/material exploitation. It happens when a caregiver steals or uses an older person’s assets or resources for their own benefit. It is one of the most common forms of abuse in old people’s homes. 

For instance, a caregiver might withdraw money from an elderly loved one’s bank account, or take control of their assets without permission.

Elder financial abuse or financial/material exploitation is often done to get access to money and assets that are needed for day-to-day living expenses. However, it can also be used as a way to control an elderly person by taking away their ability to make financial decisions.

Other examples of financial exploitation include:

  • Sharing a resident’s Social Security benefits with other family members without the resident’s knowledge or consent.
  • Taking control of an older adult’s bank accounts and/or savings accounts without the resident’s knowledge or consent.
  • Taking control of a resident’s property for their own personal use without the resident’s knowledge or consent.
  • Using a resident’s power of attorney to obtain credit cards, or other financial accounts held in the name of that person, and pay bills even if they are not authorized by them (e.g., using the power of attorney to obtain an ATM card).

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse includes forced nudity and kissing among other things. It also includes non-consensual sexual contact and inappropriate sexual comments or gestures made towards an older adult by another person in their care.

Sexual abuse in a nursing home can be in the form of touching or groping of any part of the body, including genitalia and anal regions. It can occur anywhere, at any time, and be done by anyone (staff or resident). In some cases, sexual abuse may be an attempt to cover up other forms of elder abuse.

Emotional/psychological abuse

Emotional abuse is a type of elder abuse in the form of mental mistreatment or behavior that is intended to degrade, humiliate or hurt someone else and harm their emotional wellbeing.

Emotional abuse occurs when a rest home resident is subjected to verbal attacks that are meant to hurt their feelings or make them feel worthless or helpless. Emotional abuse can also include name-calling, humiliating an older adult in front of others, frequent arguments, and ignoring them when they ask questions about their health care needs. 

Other forms of emotional abuse include threatening residents with harm if they do not follow the staff’s orders or act in certain ways (for example: refusing medication), ignoring residents’ requests for privacy during diaper changes or grooming activities, and keeping residents isolated from other residents for long periods of time (for example: putting them in seclusion rooms).

Emotional elder abuse is also reported as one of the most common types of patient abuse in hospitals.

Common signs of elder abuse

A common sign of elder abuse and neglect is a sudden change in the person’s behavior or personality, which is usually accompanied by a change in the elderly person’s sleeping habits, eating habits, hygiene, and self-care routine.

The person may become confused or disoriented, or they may act differently than usual. They may become afraid, angry, withdrawn, or depressed.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, the signs of elder abuse to look out for include: 

  • Unexplained burns, bruises, or cuts on the body
  • Welts or scrapes on the face, neck, genitals, buttocks, or thighs
  • Broken bones or fractures
  • Mental confusion or dementia-like behavior
  • Poor hygiene, such as dirty bedding or clothes
  • Unusual weight loss or a pale appearance, which may indicate that the elder person is not eating enough
  • Financial problems such as large sums of money missing from bank accounts and/or unpaid bills or debts.
  • Discrepancies in the person’s medical records
  • Unwarranted changes in personal documents and records

How can elder abuse in nursing homes be prevented?

Nursing homes have a responsibility to ensure that their residents have a safe environment. Unfortunately, seniors abuse is more common than you may think. 

However, if you’re one of the adult children of an aged or retired person you want to take to an assisted living facility, with the right information, you can learn how to spot and stop any form of abuse to them in nursing homes.

  1. Do your research: Do your research. Talk with other people whose older loved ones are being cared for at the facility as well as other families who have had similar experiences at the facility or other providers before you decide where to send your elderly person. This will help you make an informed decision about where they should spend their retirement years.

You should also visit the facility to directly ask questions and make sure they are aware of the medical needs (based on the doctor’s professional advice) and services you would like them to provide for your loved one.

  1. Take time to get to know your loved one’s caregivers. Introduce yourself to the caregivers as one of the adult children of the older adult and then ask them questions about their professional background, and what their normal activities at work are like. If you have any concerns, talk to the nursing home administrators immediately.
  2. Visit often and at different times. Even if you’re not planning on visiting frequently, encourage visits from other family members who can observe your loved one’s behavior while they’re there. If your loved one seems particularly agitated or uncomfortable with visitors, speak up!
  3. Talk to your loved one regularly about their well-being: Talk to them about how they are doing, what their needs are, and how they are feeling. This will allow you to know if there is anything that they need help with or if there is something that could be causing them distress. It will also allow you to be more informed on what is going on at home so that when problems do arise, you will be prepared with an appropriate response.
  4. Ask questions and use your eyes: One of the most effective ways you can protect your loved one from elder abuse is simply by asking questions when you suspect something is wrong. 

If you notice anything out of place or unusual behavior in your loved one, or if you suspect abuse, ask questions. Use your eyes to look for changes in their behavior or unusual hygiene habits.

  1. Look out for warning signs of elder abuse: Common signs include:
  • Unexplained bruises, abrasions, cuts, marks, or burns on the skin or other warning signs of physical abuse.
  • Unusual sleeping habits, such as sleeping all day or only sleeping a few hours a night.
  •  Emotional distress with sudden changes in behavior (i.e., becoming aggressive or withdrawn).
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain.
  • Unexplained bed sores etc.
  1. Be on the lookout for subtle warning signs of bullying or aggressive behavior in the caregiver or family member: If you see a caregiver or family member acting strangely or behaving aggressively towards your older loved one, ask them directly if they are being abused or neglected. The nursing home or family caregiver may not want to admit it, but if they do admit it, then you have the legal right to report their actions as neglect or abuse under US law.
  1. Be observant of any changes at the facility: These may include new employees, changes in staffing levels, changes in hours of operation, or other similar changes that could indicate an unsafe environment for older adults. If possible, speak with current residents of the home and ask them about their experience at the facility.
  2. Report elder abuse immediately, if you suspect it: If there is an issue or a problem at your elderly loved one’s care facility, do not hesitate to report abuse to your local adult protective services or local law enforcement agency immediately so that an investigation can be conducted into the matter!
  3. Contact a specialized and experienced nursing home abuse law firm: If you feel that a nursing home has been neglectful or abusive of a loved elder, then contact a specialist in nursing home abuse law immediately. They will be able to advise you on how best to proceed with your case, whether it be through filing a formal complaint with the state or pursuing a civil lawsuit against the facility itself.

Specialized nursing home abuse lawyers are experienced in handling cases involving allegations of neglect and abuse, as well as medical malpractice claims. They can help you or your loved one get a fresh perspective on the case, explain your options, and help you and your loved elderly person protect your rights.

How do I file a complaint about elder abuse or neglect in a nursing home?

There are many things you need to consider when it comes to a nursing home elder abuse case. You need to know how the law works, what legal actions you can take, and how much compensation you may be entitled to.

Here are some of the questions that should be answered before starting a nursing home elder abuse case:

  • What type of injury did the person sustain? Was it physical or mental? This information is important because it will determine whether or not it is a medical malpractice lawsuit. If it was physical harm, then there will be an investigation done by the health care provider who caused your loved one’s injuries. If it was mental harm, then another expert will be hired to conduct their own investigation into what happened and why they injured your loved one in such a manner.
  • Did this happen at the nursing home? In most cases, an elder abuse case can be filed against a nursing home if it is found that the abuse happened while a resident was staying there or in close proximity to the assisted living facility. 

For instance, if a resident has been physically abused by nursing caregivers or family caregivers, or other relatives, but was still receiving care at the facility while being beaten up, then there is likely a case that can be made against the facility for not doing enough to protect the victim from harm.

  • Did anyone else witness this event? If so, what was their relationship to the incident? These witnesses can also help you determine if there was wrongdoing on behalf of the staff or other residents of the facility.
  • How far back do you think back in time do you want to go looking at records/documentation of this incident if you decide to press charges against another party (e.g., staff members) related to this occurrence?

How good lawyers can help you with a nursing home elder abuse case

The first thing to do is to find an attorney who specializes in elder abuse cases. There are many lawyers who are willing to take on different types of elder abuse, but only a few have the knowledge and experience needed to handle them effectively. Your lawyer should be able to explain the legal process and give you advice on how best to proceed with your case.

Once you have hired an attorney, he or she will gather all relevant information from medical records, court documents, and other sources related to your situation. 

Your attorney will typically ask for a consultation. During this meeting, your lawyer will ask you questions about the circumstances surrounding your case and how it affects you. 

The attorney will also gather information about the situation at hand, such as what happened, who was involved, and how long ago it occurred. This is done to help determine whether or not there is enough evidence for a case against one of the parties involved as well as whether or not there are other charges that need to be filed against someone else. 

Once this has been determined, the attorney will work with you on drafting an affidavit which is basically a written statement explaining what happened and why it happened in hopes of having some kind of justice done for your loved one or yourself by way of compensation or legal fees.

The next step is preparing for trial by filing motions for discovery (or subpoenas), depositions, and other filings such as affidavits or declarations. A good lawyer will also be prepared for cross-examination at trial should it come up during the proceedings themselves.

If necessary, your lawyer may want to file motions for summary judgment which seeks dismissal of the case before it goes to trial, or for an injunction preventing elder abuse against you or your loved one or others at risk of similar actions by the former caregiver(s) or abusive family member.

In summary: You should keep an eye on your loved one to prevent elder abuse 

It’s important to monitor your loved one’s health and behavior regularly. Do not hesitate to put a stop to an elder abuse if you notice something is wrong.

If you or your loved one have been a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, hiring an experienced attorney can help ensure that you get the medical care you deserve and recover damages for any injuries you sustained while in the facility. A good lawyer will work closely with your doctor to ensure that all available medical records are reviewed by both parties and are used as evidence against the defendant in court proceedings.

The Definition Of Physical Abuse In Nursing Homes

The Definition Of Physical Abuse In Nursing Homes

What is the definition of physical abuse?

Nursing Home Abuse Reports are on the Rise. Here’s Why

Nursing Home Abuse Reports are on the Rise. Here’s Why

Source Given the nature of their work, it’s no secret that nursing home workers

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