When someone with dementia lives in a care community and gets injured, you don’t know if abuse or neglect was involved or if it truly was an accident. Morgan & Morgan shares tips to find out what happened, spot signs of elder abuse, how to know if the nursing home was at fault, and what to do if it could be abuse.
When someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia lives in assisted living or a nursing home, they may become vulnerable to bruising, falling, wandering into unsafe areas, or forgetting their physical limitations.
But if your older adult can’t remember how they broke their hip, hit their head, or suffered an injury, you might wonder if it was truly an accident or if nursing home abuse was involved.
If a nursing home failed to properly care for your older adult, you may be able to file a lawsuit to cover your parent’s medical costs and receive compensation for their pain and suffering.
If it’s determined that your older adult was abused, an attorney can help you report it to the proper authorities and make sure their rights are protected.
Use these tips to find out how the injury happened, identify signs of elder abuse, how to know if the nursing home was at fault, and what to do if nursing home abuse is a real possibility.
5 steps to find out how the injury happened
If your older adult can’t recall how an injury occurred, you may need to investigate on your own. Here are 5 steps that help you find out what happened.
1. Ask around
Ask other residents if they saw anything, especially if your parent has a roommate.
2. Request a care plan meeting
Meet with the Administrator and Director of Nursing to bring attention to the situation and determine how it occurred.
3. Contact the local ombudsman
If you’re not getting appropriate answers, report the incident to your state’s elder abuse ombudsman or the state agency that regulates nursing homes or assisted living communities.
4. Check for security footage
If the accident took place in a common area, a security camera may have captured it.
Note that private facilities aren’t legally obligated to share footage unless required by local authorities or a court order.
5. Have a doctor examine them
Your older adult’s physician can also do a physical exam to help identify possible causes of the injury and whether it seems to have been caused by abuse or if it was more likely an accident.
Look for common signs of elder abuse
If this isn’t the first unexplained injury your older adult has suffered, don’t rule out the possibility of elder abuse.
More than a third of people with dementia are psychologically or physically abused by their caregivers.
Warning signs of elder abuse include:
- Unusual injuries – If bruises are large or in odd places like on the face, neck, upper back, or chest, investigate further. Also look out for burns or indications of physical restraint.
- Severe injuries – A serious injury, like a broken bone, without an explanation of how it happened could be a sign that something is wrong.
- Skin lesions – Bed sores, ulcers, or pressure sores are obvious signs that your older adult isn’t being properly cared for.
- Malnutrition – Sudden weight loss, dehydration, or bowel impaction (often caused by dehydration or insufficient fiber), could mean that your parent is malnourished.
- Unsanitary conditions – Soiled clothing, dirty linens, or evidence that your older adult is being forced to lie in bodily waste are also clear signs of abuse.
Additional signs of elder abuse include:
- Sudden changes in personality and behavior, including depression and withdrawal.
- Your older adult becoming quiet when a certain staff member is present.
- Your older adult refusing to see a doctor or dismissing the severity of their injury.
- Caregivers not wanting you to be alone with your older adult.
- Caregivers offering differing explanations or unusual excuses for the injuries.
How to determine if the nursing home is at fault
Whether your older adult was hurt in an accident or abused by a caregiver, the nursing home or assisted living community could be at fault for their injuries.
3 top factors that could make the nursing home liable are:
1. Negligent staffing
The care community could be liable if they are understaffed, have unqualified people on staff, don’t provide adequate training, or if they hire people who have a history of abuse.
2. Inadequate security
A care community could be liable if they fail to install locks and alarms to keep patients from wandering inside the facility or leaving the building.
They could also be at fault if there are a lack of security cameras that could help prevent violence or abuse from occurring.
3. A hazardous environment
If the care community has failed to address tripping hazards like slippery floors or raised carpeting, they could be at fault for an injury caused by these hazards.
6 steps to take if you suspect nursing home abuse
1. Talk with other families
Ask other families they’ve noticed similar injuries on their older adults or rough behavior by any staff members.
2. Report your concerns
File a formal complaint with the Administrator and/or the Director of Nursing.
3. Install a camera in their room
Installing a camera means that you can observe and record what happens in your older adult’s room.
Be sure to research the privacy laws in your area – you may need to put a notice on the door alerting others of the camera’s presence.
Note: Some states, including Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, do allow cameras to be installed in private nursing homes.
4. Visit regularly
Do your best to visit your older adult weekly, or even multiple times a week. The age-old saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” helps your older adult get better care.
You want the care community’s staff to get to know you and, more importantly, to know that you care about your older adult and you’re keeping an eye on them.
5. Move them to another care community
If you fear for your older adult’s safety, move them to another care community as soon as possible.
6. Document everything and report it to the proper authorities
Having a record of what happened is important when reporting the incident to local authorities.
These could include the police, Adult Protective Services, or an ombudsman program in your area to advocate on your older adult’s behalf.
Recommended for you:
- Problems in Assisted Living: Should You Move Someone with Alzheimer’s?
- How an Elder Law Attorney Can Help Seniors and Caregivers
- Handy Checklist and Tips on How to Find a Good Assisted Living Facility
Guest contributor: Alexander Clem is an attorney for Morgan & Morgan. He represents clients who have been affected by nursing home negligence, personal injury, and wrongful death. Alexander is a former member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and has been recognized by his peers as one of The Best Lawyers in America since 2005.
Image: Dovedale Care Nursing Home
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