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Could my elderly relative be a victim of nursing home neglect?

While you might have wanted to be the one to care for your aging relatives, at some point, it became logistically impossible. After a lot of discussion over what was best for him or her, you decided to look into nursing home care at a long-term facility in Massachusetts. Nursing homes are extremely expensive, but you knew scrimping and saving would be worth it if it was best for your elderly loved one.

Now, you are worried because when you go to visit, your relative is suddenly quiet and withdrawn when he or she has never been that way before. Your loved one doesn't seem happy or has lost a lot of weight. When you stopped by unexpectedly, the room was a mess, and you almost tripped over things all over the floor. Maybe it seemed like your relative had not had a shower or bath for quite some time. You aren't sure what to think, but you know something isn't right.

What is nursing home neglect?

Nursing home neglect is when a resident of a nursing home does not receive the proper standard of care that he or she needs, whether that is meeting his or her physical needs or providing medical care or emotional attention. Patients in long-term care facilities like nursing homes are at heightened risk for things like injuries, falls and illnesses. They are almost entirely dependent upon the staff for the care and attention they need, and sometimes getting that care can mean the difference between life and death.

Is nursing home neglect considered abuse?

While the two are both illegal and harmful, nursing home abuse goes one step further than neglect and involves a specific intent to cause harm to the patient. In many cases, though, neglect may worsen and turn into emotional or even physical abuse.

What signs should I look for?

Identifying nursing home neglect may be difficult, especially if you don't get the opportunity to visit and spend time with your elderly relative as often as you would like. While some signs of nursing home neglect are obvious, warning signs include:

  • Changes in personal hygiene
  • Injuries, either from falling or things like bedsores
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Unsafe environments with fall hazards, slippery floors, cluttered rooms or poor lighting

How common is nursing home neglect and abuse?

A research brief compiled by the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) suggests that, out of 2,000 nursing home residents surveyed, a shocking 95 percent said they had either suffered neglect or seen instances of neglect, and a further 44 percent reported abuse.

Furthermore, a 2010 survey indicated that over 50 percent of nursing home staff admitted to mistreating elderly patients within the last year, and 17 percent of certified nursing assistants had shoved, pushed or grabbed an elderly resident.

What should I do now?

If you believe your aging relative is in immediate danger from nursing home neglect or abuse, the best course of action might be to call 911. Otherwise, you may wish to begin by seeking the professional guidance of a doctor or other health care provider to evaluate the state of your elderly loved one's physical health. A personal injury attorney will have information on other resources to report nursing home abuse in Massachusetts and will be able to offer guidance and counsel on possible next steps.

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