Nursing home abuse
It is a general presumption that if you make the difficult decision or have no choice but to place a loved one in a nursing home, they will be well looked after. However, unfortunately sometimes residents of nursing homes become the victims of abuse at the hands of those you have entrusted with their care. If you have any concerns, these should be taken very seriously.
What is abuse?
The charity Action of Elder Abuse defines abuse as “a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person”. However, abuse can come in many different forms:
- Physical abuse: physical injuries are the most easily identifiable and unexplained or untreated injuries, signs of restraint, soiled clothing and bedding, malnourishment or dehydration without an illness-related cause, and skin problems such as bed sores may be signs of abuse. Physical assault also includes the incorrect prescription or administration of medication, or unexplained differences in the dosage.
- Psychological abuse: this may involve threatening to endanger something of great importance to the older person (such as an object or person) unless they comply with demands. This can cause the victim to feel isolated, frightened and trapped, which in turn may have an impact on their mental state. Therefore, signs of psychological abuse may be confusion, reluctance to talk, unexplained fear, seeming distracted, unusual behaviour, implausible stories or general agitation or upset.
- Financial abuse: crimes like fraud or theft should be reported to the police immediately. This may involve the misuse of Enduring Powers of Attorney, or family members attempting to take money from the older person on the basis that they are simply obtaining their inheritance in advance. Signs of financial abuse may include: unpaid bills, additional names appearing on a bank account or sudden changes to a bank balance, changes to a person’s will, or the sudden unexplained disappearance of a person’s assets.
- Sexual abuse: if this is suspected, it will often be denied by the victim, and family members or care workers may not wish to involve the police out of a desire to make the older person comfortable and preserve their dignity. However, it is a crime, irrespective of the age of the victim. Some signs of sexual abuse may include: bruising around the breasts or genital area, unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding, genital infections, stained or bloody underclothing.
- Neglect: this may be passive (e.g. if the nursing home is understaffed) or intentional. Examples of possible neglect may include: the presence of bed sores, unclean and/or unsanitary living conditions, poor personal hygiene, untreated medical conditions, lack of assistance with eating and drinking and inadequate clothing and medication.
What action should you take if you suspect abuse?
If you suspect that abuse is taking place, you should contact your local authority immediately, who will respond to your allegations. If you suspect that the abuse amounts to a crime, you should contact the police. You can also raise your concerns with the nursing home via their complaints procedure. The Care Quality Commission can help you to make a complaint. However, time is of the essence in cases of abuse, so you should take action as quickly as possible.