Nursing home residents are often very vulnerable to injury and must be given a high level of care to protect them from harm. When patients are neglected or abused, there are many types of injuries that may incur:
One of the most common nursing home injuries is bedsores, or pressure sores, which affect approximately 10 percent (10%) of nursing home patients, many of whom are confined to a bed or wheelchair. When patients stay in the same position for an extended period, unrelieved pressure in certain areas can restrict blood flow. Skin tissue becomes irritated, and as tissue and muscle deteriorate from lack of circulation, a serious wound develops.
Bedsores are typically categorized as Stage I through IV (Stage I = least severe; Stage IV = most severe). Wounds may also be designated “unstageable”, such as when the wound is covered by too much dead tissue to properly stage. Bedsores are easily prevented, either by encouraging patients to be mobile or by regularly changing the position of patients who cannot move themselves. If left untreated, bedsores can be life-threatening.
Injuries and falls frequently happen when patients are left on their own, or when staff move patients from one location to another. Nursing homes must conduct a fall-risk assessment on every new patient when they enter the facility so that they can take the proper steps to keep patients safe. When a fracture occurs due to a fall, a patient being dropped, or other circumstance, it can be extremely painful and may require surgery. Tragically, fractures in the elderly frequently lead to death.
As we age, our bones become more fragile, making them more susceptible to fracture. There are multiple types of fractures, including:
Accidents such as falls can also result in severe bruising. In addition to bones being weakened by age, other body tissues become more fragile and can be easily damaged. Nursing home residents must be handled with care to prevent unnecessary injuries, which may require more extensive treatment in elderly patients. These injuries are compounded by the fact that many residents are prescribed blood thinners. When the bleeding occurs in the brain it is often fatal. In some cases, bruises can be a sign of physical abuse by nursing home staff or other patients, so it is important to keep an eye out for unusual bleeding or bruising.
Full-time residents of a nursing care facility are dependent on staff for all their meals; some may require assistance to feed themselves. Nursing staff must be properly trained to care for these patients, especially those that have difficulty chewing or swallowing. Malnutrition and dehydration are some of the leading types of nursing home neglect, and approximately 35 to 85 percent of patients in nursing homes or long-term care facilities suffer from malnutrition. If the facility’s staff is not properly attuned to the needs of its residents, it can have disastrous consequences. Nursing staff must be just as attentive in making sure patients are properly hydrated. Persistent dehydration can cause organ systems to fail, particularly in older patients who retain less water.
Infections are common among nursing home patients who often have decreased immune function. Some of these infections are preventable, and most can be treated effectively if identified in a timely manner. However, misdiagnosis or lack of diagnosis can prolong infections and make them more dangerous to elderly patients. Infections such as sepsis, which occurs when infections move into the blood and trigger an inflammatory reaction in the body. Sepsis can be fatal if left untreated or when not properly treated.
While some nursing home patients may retain their mobility, others are entirely dependent on nurses and aides to help them. Nursing home patients may need assistance with tasks such as bathing, using the bathroom, or simply getting out of bed. Patients must be routinely checked to make sure they are comfortable and their rooms are in good, sanitary condition. In situations where staff is overworked or simply neglecting to attend to patients, residents can be left in extreme discomfort for extended periods of time.
Living in a nursing home can be a lonely experience. Some patients have family who visit regularly and can interact with other residents. Others are more limited in their opportunities to socialize, either due to medical issues, lack of family or lack of mobility. Consequently, it is not unusual for patients to become more reserved. If there is a profound change in a nursing home patient’s behavior, however, it is often a sign that they are suffering from some type of abuse, or they are suffering from a significant change.
Nursing home abuse can be passive, a result of neglectful behavior from staff, or active, when a patient becomes a target of hurtful actions. It can occur in many forms and may not be immediately obvious to family or friends. If a person suspects that their loved one is being abused, it is important to act quickly to prevent any further harm to them, as well as to other patients.