The senior population of the United States has grown exponentially in recent decades, with approximately two million Americans living in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Massachusetts state law protects our aging population from abuse in such facilities, but it is important for elders and their loved ones to understand their rights and the signs of elder abuse and neglect in nursing homes in order to response swiftly.

Each nursing home has both a moral and legal obligation to care for the seniors entrusted to them. In fact, in 1987, Congress passed the Nursing Home Reform Act. The Act applies to all nursing home facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding, and states that nursing homes, “….must provide services and activities to attain the highest practicable physical, mental, and psychological well-being of each resident in accordance with a written plan of care.” 

Massachusetts Elder Rights

Under Massachusetts state law, residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities are entitled to the following rights:

  • Written notice of their rights.
  • Participation in religious, social, and community groups.
  • Privacy during medical treatment and exams.
  • Prompt response to reasonable requests within the capacity of the facility.
  • Informed consent to the extent provided by law.
  • The ability to file a complaint against a facility or care provider without discrimination, restraint, or reprisal.

Types of Elder Abuse

Unfortunately, statistics on elder abuse and neglect tell a harrowing tale. Abuse in nursing homes and long-term care facilities is rampant and vastly underreported. Elder abuse comes in many forms and can include physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, and can come from not only the nursing home staff, but other residents as well. It may include neglect as well as overt abuse. False imprisonment is also common, which occurs when a resident is prevented from moving from a certain area, and possibly deprived of food, water, or other necessities.

Seniors may also be vulnerable to financial abuse by staff members. There have been cases where employees of a nursing home have stolen money from bank accounts, or pressured residents to modify their wills or other legal documents for financial gain.

Alert Signals for Elder Abuse or Neglect

While elder abuse isn’t incredibly common in nursing homes, there are 5 signs to watch for to ensure that your loved one is kept safe from harm. If your family member exhibits any of these signs, it is best to immediately ensure their safety, and then contact an attorney to take swift action against the abuser and keep your loved one away from harm.

  1. Physical Changes – While physical warning signs of abuse can be difficult to spot in the elderly who are typically sedentary, be mindful of the following changes to their physical health.
  • Weight Loss
  • Bruising or marks which look like they came from restraints
  • Bedsores
  • Infections or sepsis
  • Broken or fractured bones
  • Overmedication or over-sedation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Unwashed body, hair, or clothes
  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Any injuries from falls
  • Any bleeding or bruising in genital areas (sexual abuse)
  • Torn or ripped clothing
  • Contraction of a sexually transmitted disease

2. Emotional Changes – While a senior may have the onset of dementia, make note of any unusual or radical mood swings. Your loved one may feel intimidated or fearful of speaking in front of the nursing home staff and could be acting out violently to garner attention without retaliation.

Additionally, if your loved one shows excessive fear around specific staff members of the nursing home when they are near, this could be a sign of abuse. Another sign of emotional instability is when a resident blames his/herself for insignificant problems or has visible depression or anger.  Any of these differences from their normal state could indicate elder abuse.

3. Mental Changes – While it is important to look for physical and emotional changes, there can also be more subtle mental changes that can signal abuse. If a loved one is acting as if they have dementia when they do not, by engaging in behavior such as rocking, sucking, or mumbling, it is classified as “false dementia” and oftentimes can occur when they have been abused.

A senior might not bring the abuse to the attention of their loved ones but instead may regress mentally. Some will stop any activities they used to enjoy, or simply not act like themselves. Others will suddenly want to be isolated from everyone, including family members and friends. These changes can signal that elder abuse has occurred.

4. Financial Changes – Typically, a family member will maintain responsibility for the finances of their loved in a nursing home. However, there are cases where the senior wants to remain independent and keep control of their finances. If any unexpected or frequent withdrawals occur from bank accounts, new loans, mortgage contracts, or revisions to any wills or trusts occur, it is important to realize that the senior may have been influenced or strategically manipulated by one of the staff or administrative members of the nursing home.

Health care fraud is also rampant in the nursing home industry and can be committed by doctors, hospital or nursing home staff, or any other health care worker.  Overcharging, falsifying medical records, or double-billing for the same service are all considered fraud, and it is important to examine medical records thoroughly to ensure that your loved one is only paying for the care that they receive.

5. Poor Communication from the Nursing Home – A tell-tale sign of possible elder abuse is poor communication from the nursing home regarding your loved one. When staff members or administrators fail to return phone calls, refuse to allow you to visit your family member, or do not communicate with you regarding medication, health, or other issues, this is a red flag that some sort of abuse or neglect may be occurring.

Additionally, if you notice high turnover in the nursing home staff or insufficient staff on duty, it is important to ensure that your loved one is being taken care of properly and that this is not an indication that someone is being abused or neglected. Also, if you see that the nursing home staff is absent, often frantic, discordant or acting unprofessional, you may want to investigate further to see if there may be other signs of elder abuse.

What Should You Do if Your Loved One Has Been Abused? 

If your loved one has suffered elder abuse due to the negligence, recklessness or intentional acts of a nursing home or long-term care facility, it is important that after you ensure their immediate safety, you speak with an attorney immediately before the senior’s memory fades or evidence is lost.

During a free, no-obligation consultation, the experienced elder abuse team at Law Firm of Alan R. Goodman will listen to you carefully and examine documents and medical reports. We can help you assess your potential case and determine what legal actions you may have regarding this traumatic and abusive experience.

If we determine that the elder abuse occurred, we may recommend legal action against the nursing home and accept your case on a contingency basis. This means that there will never be any up-front cost to you because we will only get paid when we settle your case or win a judgement in your loved one’s favor.

Nursing home abuse is more common than many people realize. Contact the nursing home abuse lawyers at A Good Law Firm today at (413) 736-1616 to learn more about the options available to protect and seek justice for your loved one.