Nursing home abuse can take many forms. It can be intentional, visible, and obvious, or it can be more subtle — abuse through neglect and general lack of care on the part of nursing home staff. Abuse can be physical, emotional, financial, or even sexual. Each of these takes a heavy toll on any person, but nursing home abuse and nursing home neglect can be especially hard on the elderly — some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Whatever form nursing home abuse takes, it is urgent that you and your loved one open a dialogue about this extraordinarily sensitive topic. Communication is necessary to end the abuse and let the healing begin.
The first step in opening a dialogue is identifying suspected abuse. There are many signs of nursing home abuse that you can look for. The first sign you may notice is a change in behavior. The emotional effects that often accompany abuse can manifest as sluggishness or depression, a lack of enthusiasm for things your loved one once enjoyed, or even a loss of interest in visits. The change in attitude can be significant and sudden, or it may be subtle and prolonged. The most important thing is to be observant and notice if the change is taking place on any level.
Of course, it is also possible that signs of abuse will be far more apparent. Physical signs of nursing home abuse or nursing home neglect can take the form of bruises, sores, cuts, scars, or any similar injuries. These may be from simple accidents, but if there is anything suspicious about the injury, the problem should be addressed immediately. Suspicious signs might include a reluctance to talk about how the injury occurred or claiming not to remember the cause. Even more obvious signs are bedsores, which are a common signs of nursing home neglect. They are painful and, if infected, can be potentially lethal.
When abuse or neglect are identified or suspected it is important to notify the authorities and contact a nursing home abuse lawyer to discuss your legal rights.
Starting the Discussion
Once you have identified possible abuse in nursing homes, or once suspicion has been raised that abuse is occurring, it is essential to open a dialogue with the person who is being abused. He or she may not want to talk about the abuse, as it may be embarrassing for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, the truth must come out if the nursing home abuse is to be identified and stopped.
The first and most important thing is to simply be straightforward and ask your loved one if he or she needs help. Ask if there is anything wrong, or if there is anything going on in the nursing home with which they need assistance. The communication may begin there. It is possible that the abused senior wants to discuss the situation.
Listen without Judging
If the dialogue begins after this question, it is important to believe the abused person. He or she is probably desperate to be believed and to be helped. It is possible that the abuser is someone who seems completely incapable of abuse — such as a friendly nurse with whom you have had a long-term interaction or even another senior. Whatever the accusation, it is important to believe your loved one.
Listen to the story without interrupting or making a judgment. Simply be there to listen. It is imperative that you not express pity or interrupt with anger — even if the story of abuse makes you angry. Simply listen and then reinforce that you are there for support and to help in whatever way you can.
Encourage and Educate
If your abused loved one is not so forthcoming, there are several steps you can go through to try to open the channels of communication and encourage the person to seek help — or accept help from you.
First, provide information and resources to your loved one. Do your best to educate him or her on the realities of nursing home abuse. Explain that it isn’t his or her fault and that it could happen to anyone. Encourage the person to seek help and support and explain that there are options beyond continued abuse.
Opening a dialogue about abuse is never easy, but with the right tools and a little preparation it is possible to bring nursing home abuse out into the open, stop it, and begin the process of healing.
“How to Help Someone You Think Is Being Abused” http://web.utk.edu/~utpolice/PDF/How%20To%20Help%20someone%20you%20think%20is%20being%20abused.pdf
“What To Do If You Are Being Abused” 8 March 2010. http://www.gov.ns.ca/seniors/whattodo.asp
This article used with permission: The Nursing Home Abuse Center