Nursing Home Abuse Guide |  👵 Types, Causes, What to Do, Etc.

Nursing Home Abuse Guide - Types, Causes, What to Do, Etc.

Last Updated on: 4th November 2021, 10:29 am

An estimated 10% of senior adults are subjected to abuse or neglect at some point in their lives. In one study in New York, 1 out of 13 older adults had been the victim of abuse in the preceding year. While there are many kinds of abuse, the most frequently reported types in the study were verbal mistreatment, financial mistreatment, and physical mistreatment.

Nursing home abuse happens when caregivers and staff members either abuse or neglect residents. After abuse in a nursing home occurs, loved ones may notice signs that show they might have been mistreated. If your loved one is a victim of abuse, there are legal ways you can protect them from further harm.

What is Nursing Home Abuse?

Nursing home abuse and neglect happens when caregivers in the nursing home harm residents. This may occur intentionally or through negligence. Because of this nursing home abuse, the victim may suffer from physical or emotional trauma.

Physical nursing home abuse can come in a variety of forms. You may notice cuts, burn marks, restraint marks, scratches, pinch marks, bruises, or rope marks. If you see any marks around the individual’s neck, face, or head, it’s possible they could be suffering from abuse.

If someone is grabbed forcefully or yanked around, they may end up with bruises on their arms, wrists, and legs from the abuser’s fingers and thumbs. Because abuse tends to recur, you may notice old and bruises in the same area over and over again.

The individual may also have marks from restraints. If restraints are used, they must be done properly according to a doctor’s orders or for the patient’s safety.

Sometimes, the injuries even lead to a medical emergency. Financial abuse can leave the individual’s finances completely devastated. In the worst cases, the victim may die from the abuse or lack of proper care. 

Unfortunately, abuse in a nursing home can occur because the residents are more vulnerable and susceptible to these attacks. Many residents have physical and cognitive problems like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, which often prevent them from understanding or being able to fight back against the abuse. If the patient is overmedicated, they are also at a higher risk of being abused.

According to studies, about half of people with dementia suffer from some kind of neglect or abuse. Poor training of staff members, understaffing, and staff member burnout fuel abuse and neglect across this industry. When staff members are frustrated or exhausted, they may take their anger out on the people they are supposed to care for and protect.

The level of care varies based on the nursing home, the staff member’s experience, and the management. Luckily, there are nursing home abuse laws in place to protect residents. By recognizing and reporting abuse, you can keep your loved one safe and save future residents from undergoing the same trauma.

How to Spot Nursing Home Abuse

If your loved one is suffering from abuse in a nursing home, there are common signs you may notice. Abuse can be physical or emotional, so you should pay attention to the senior’s demeanor as well as their physical condition. If you notice the following signs of abuse or neglect, you should call a lawyer and report the abuse to local authorities.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

When someone is emotionally abused, they may suffer from agitation, anxiety, depression, or sadness. They may seem disoriented or confused, even though there is no medical reason for it. The individual may become withdrawn, suffer from unexplained sleep disorders or eating changes, and stop participating in pastimes they previously loved.

Nurse verbally abusing a woman in a nursing home

If you try to talk to the patient, they may be untruthful or be afraid to talk openly about their problems. The caregiver may even stop you from speaking to the individual alone because they are afraid of getting caught. Additionally, the patient may seem afraid of being left alone with certain caregivers.

Signs of Physical Abuse

Physical nursing home abuse can come in a variety of forms. You may notice cuts, burn marks, restraint marks, scratches, pinch marks, bruises, or rope marks. If you see any marks around the individual’s neck, face, or head, it’s possible they could be suffering from abuse.

If someone is grabbed forcefully or yanked around, they may end up with bruises on their arms, wrists, and legs from the abuser’s fingers and thumbs. Because abuse tends to recur, you may notice old and bruises in the same area over and over again.

The individual may also have marks from restraints. If restraints are used, they must be done properly according to a doctor’s orders or for the patient’s safety.

You may notice physical signs of abuse like broken bones, dislocations, and fractures. If the individual has been sexually abused, you may notice bruising and/or bleeding around their private areas. They may also develop inflammation or venereal disease for no obvious reason.

Sometimes, the abuser will overmedicate patients to keep them docile. If this happens, the individual may stare blankly or be excessively sleepy. They may suffer from drowsiness, reduced motility, and uncontrollable drooling.

Signs of Neglect 

Abuse doesn’t have to be active or intentional to cause harm. Neglect may also lead to devastating consequences. For example, residents may fall frequently if proper prevention measures aren’t in place.

Nursing neglecting an elderly man in a nursing home

Patients may also exhibit signs like bedsores, dirty hair, poor hygiene, dirty fingernails, dirty clothes, and dirty teeth. They may even smell like urine or feces. If the individual is in unsafe living conditions, the resident may wander around on their own or lack hot water.

Neglect may involve patients getting left unattended in unsafe areas or outside. The patient may suffer from malnutrition, lost dentures, unexplained weight loss, missing glasses, dehydration, or missing hearing aids. If you visit their living area, the space may be disorganized or dirty.

Common Types of Nursing Home Abuse

Physical Abuse

Physical nursing home abuse typically involves injuries like broken bones, cuts, and bruises. While people normally get injured, you can often spot physical abuse if the explanation doesn’t match the injury type. Likewise, repeated injuries are a cause for concern.

When a staff member knowingly causes physical harm, they are causing physical abuse. This kind of abuse may involve kicking, hitting, or pushing the resident. Improperly restraining the patient may also lead to physical injuries.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse happens when the caregiver tries to harm the patient’s mental well-being or self-esteem. They may yell at the resident, belittle them, or manipulate them. Sometimes, the staff member will deliberately isolate the resident from their family and friends.

While you might not be able to see the abuse physically, it can still be harmful to the resident. They may feel stressed, anxious, or scared all the time. Eventually, these negative emotions can fuel depression and other mental disorders as well.

Sexual Abuse

Unfortunately, sexual abuse can happen in nursing homes as well. As a result, residents can end up feeling traumatized. They may also suffer from physical injuries.

While the sexual abuser may be a staff member, they could also be another resident. Other types of neglect may make sexual abuse more common. If staff members don’t care for residents properly, one resident may sexually abuse other residents.


Nursing home abuse and neglect may occur at the same time. In some cases, staff members may leave residents unattended, which may lead to injuries.


If the senior isn’t turned often enough, they may develop bedsores. Likewise, infections and malnutrition may also stem from neglect.

Financial Abuse

Abuse in a nursing home may entail financial abuse. For example, staff members may try to steal money from the resident’s bank account.

Financial abuse can include things like fraud or outright theft. The individual may steal the money outright, use the senior’s debit card, or forge their signature on checks. Once the money is spent, it can be difficult to get it back without the help of a lawyer.

Healthcare Fraud

Sometimes, the abuse isn’t caused by the caregivers and staff members. Every year, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities get in trouble for healthcare fraud. This kind of fraud may involve things like kickbacks, double billing, and billing for phantom patients.

Healthcare fraud can also happen when managed care plans recruit or sign up patients in a fraudulent way. Anytime the nursing home bills for goods and services that weren’t provided, they are guilty of fraud. Likewise, the nursing home should never bill for unnecessary goods and services, non-covered goods and services, or more expensive procedures than the actual procedure.

Preventing Nursing Home Abuse

While it can be difficult to fully prevent abuse in a nursing home, there are a few steps people can take to protect their loved ones.

  • Research nursing home facilities prior to choosing one, so you can read through past customer testimonials.
  • Make sure your loved one stays actively engaged within their local community, making friends and spending time with them.
  • Stay in touch with the nursing home caregivers on a regular basis.
  • Be mindful of individuals who may be more susceptible to financial abuse due to their standing or wealth.
  • Ensure your loved one is active by helping them exercise and go on walks.

Nursing Home Abuse Statistics – Is Nursing Home Abuse Common?

Unfortunately, nursing home abuse and neglect are surprisingly common problems across the United States.

    • One study reported that up to 24.3% of residents undergo physical abuse at some point during their stay in a nursing home.
    • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), two out of three staff members in nursing homes and long-term care facilities reported abusing patients in the preceding year.
    • In the same WHO study, only 15.7% of seniors reported being abused. In addition to showing the prevalence of this problem, this also demonstrates a major issue with underreporting among victims.
    • About half of people with dementia have suffered from abuse or neglect.
    • 47% of Alzheimer’s patients suffered from some form of mistreatment.
    • Experts predict only 1 out of 24 cases of elder abuse is reported to authorities.

What to Do if You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse?

If you suspect nursing home mistreatment, you need to find out where to report elder abuse. You should prevent immediate harm by calling 911 or moving your loved one to a new facility if you need to. Depending on the situation, you may want to talk to your loved one or the nursing home administration about your concerns.

Across the country, each state has a designated authority available as part of Adult Protective Services (APS). If you believe your loved one is a victim of nursing home abuse, you’ll want to find the location in your state and contact them. In most areas, you can file a complaint with the APS or your local long-term care ombudsman.

You should document everything, write down what happens, and keep reports of each contact. If the nursing home doesn’t improve the situation, you may also need to talk to a lawyer about your legal options. You may be able to get compensation for your loved one’s suffering.

Who investigates nursing home abuse?

If there is ever a report of nursing home abuse, there are multiple authorities who will conduct their own investigations of the claim. Adult Protective Services will closely evaluate the situation to determine what action needs to be taken against the accused and the nursing home. Typically, an ombudsman will assist the victim in gathering the necessary details that are required for their case.

Whenever the accused is a nurse or doctor, there are professional licensing boards who will determine whether the individual will have their license revoked.

If the case involved financial nursing home abuse, there are designated Medicaid fraud teams that are part of the attorney general’s office who will do an investigation.

Nursing Home Abuse Laws

Seniors are protected through a patchwork of federal, state, and local nursing home abuse. These laws cover everything from where to report elder abuse to penalties for committing abuse.

For example, the four biggest national laws are:

  • The Elder Justice Act
  • The Older Americans Act
  • The Violence Against Women Act
  • The No-Fear Act.

The Elder Justice Act created the Elder Justice Coordinating Council and requires all staff members at nursing homes to report any suspected abuse incidents.

Passed in 1965, the Older Americans Act defines what elder abuse is and funds federal awareness programs. Meanwhile, the Violence Against Women Act offers victim services for women and specialized services for women over the age of 50. Finally, the No-Fear Act was created to protect whistleblowers who reported elder abuse.

There are also state laws as well as local regulations that protect individuals from nursing home abuse. For example, Penal Code 368 PC of California law defines what elder abuse is and penalties for abusing elders.

Navigating all of these laws and reporting requirements can be difficult. If you need help, a trusted nursing home abuse lawyer can support you throughout the process. With help, your loved one can seek the justice they deserve.

Hire the Top Lawyers to Fight Against Nursing Home Abuse

Do you think your loved one could be suffering from abuse in a nursing home? A nursing home abuse lawyer can help you determine the best steps in your case. To get assistance with your potential abuse case, call Berman & Riedel, LLP today at (858) 350-8855!

About Berman & Riedel, LLP firm managing partner attorney William M. Berman:

Attorney William M. Berman focuses his practice in the areas of catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death and elder abuse and neglect. Strictly a plaintiffs’ dedicated firm, he never represents insurance companies in the defense of claims. Mr. Berman’s firm remains staunchly committed to helping those who have suffered serious injury or loss due the negligence, intentional misconduct or wrongful acts of others.

Mr. Berman has grown his firm to what is considered one of the largest and most successful elder abuse/neglect practices within California. Through his continued successes in handling claims involving nursing home and elder abuse and neglect, Mr. Berman remains a prominent figure in advocating on behalf of this vulnerable class of citizens.

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Attorney Bill Berman

William M. Berman, Esquire
Berman & Riedel, LLP
12264 El Camino Real, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92130
ph: (858) 350-8855
fax: (858) 350-9855