While some elderly people who suffer from abuse at the hands of nursing home staff will speak out about the situation and seek help in defending themselves, you must realize that your family member may be reluctant to discuss the matter and may never say anything until it is too late. Your loved one might not want to talk due to feelings of shame or embarrassment, or could be hesitating to discuss the matter out of fear of retaliation or reprisals should the abuser learn that he or she has been exposed. If this is true in your case, it is up to you to identify warning signs which indicate that your family member's physical safety and emotional well-being may be in danger, and to take appropriate action to correct the situation.
One of the first signs to watch for is a deterioration of personal hygiene. Many nursing home residents require extra help in personal grooming, and this type of deterioration may be an indication that your loved one is being neglected by the nursing home staff. While this may be a result of understaffing, it could also be a sign that your family member is being abused-the resulting loss of self-esteem can lead to a lowering of standards of cleanliness.
Signs and Symptoms to Be Alert For
You should also be alert to any behavioral changes such as mood swings or feelings of fear or anxiety. If mental abuse or physical or sexual violence is being committed by a caregiver or other resident, your loved one is likely to feel highly insecure. Similarly, watch for sudden weight loss, illness, malnutrition or dehydration, which can indicate either that the staff are not ensuring that your family member is receiving the proper diet and medical care, or that your loved one's emotional disturbance is affecting physical health.
While some of the signs mentioned so far have been somewhat equivocal and may not require emergency action, if you notice that your family member has unexplained bruises or has suffered any type of injury, it is advisable to make a thorough investigation to determine the cause. Some of these injuries can be attributed to falls or simple accidents, but sensitive questioning may reveal that your loved one has been the victim of physical abuse which may be as alarming as shoving, beating or sexual assault.
Probably the one thing which allows nursing home abuse to run as rampant as it does is the fact that many people fail to take action after noticing signs which indicate that it might be taking place. It can be difficult to conceive that something so terrible is actually affecting your loved one, and it is easy to rationalize the signs or to accept excuses. Don't be reasonable about protecting your loved one's health.