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How Nursing Home Abuse Happens—and What You Should Do About It

When someone becomes a resident at a nursing home, that nursing home has made a promise to take care of that resident. Often, the resident’s family is unable to care for their loved one at home due to increasing needs for hands-on daily care. When a nursing home agrees to accept a patient as a resident, that nursing home should be designed to care fully for the resident. Not only do nursing homes get paid millions of dollars to care for their residents, both Kentucky and federal laws demand that they do so in an appropriate manner.

Unfortunately, too many older Americans, receive care that is far from adequate. In many cases, the care turns into abuse and neglect, making their days at the nursing home a living nightmare. Residents may be afraid to speak up and tell someone that they are being abused for fear of retaliation by the nursing home staff. That is why it is very important for family members and friends to know how to identify the signs of abuse and neglect as identified by an experienced Kentucky nursing home abuse attorney.


Bedsores, also known as decubitus ulcers or pressure ulcers, are sometimes thought of as a necessary evil when dealing with anyone who lies or sits for long periods of time. However, they are almost all preventable with proper care. Some of the common preventable causes of bedsores are:

  • Dragging a person across a bed without proper protection of the feetNursing Home Abuse and Bedsores, tailbone, back, and elbows.
  • Moisture which can occur when wet bed linens or adult diapers are left for extended periods of time.
  • Not moving a resident frequently enough.
  • Not ensuring proper diet or diet supplements.

If a caregiver is not vigilant, a small sore can quickly escalate into a serious ulcer. The longer the ulcer persists, the worse it becomes. The ulcer can eventually become a crater which extends into the muscle and bone of the afflicted elder. These serious bedsores can easily become infected, and if the infection proceeds unchecked it can lead to sepsis and death.

Bedsores do not have to happen and proper care will prevent them.


Falls account for over 1,800 deaths in nursing homes each year. There are many factors that account for the frequency of nursing home falls. Obviously, the residents are in an assisted living facility because they are unable to live on their own. One should feel better knowing they are somewhere safe with trained staff that can help prevent a fall.

However, there are ways in which nursing homes cause falls. If the facility is unsafe or has unsafe equipment in place, the likelihood increases that a fall will occur. If the home is not clean, then there may be spills and messes on floors that pose a serious hazard to anyone attempting to walk through them. Hazards in a nursing home account for 16 percent to 27 percent of the falls.

The frequency of falls that occur in the non-walking population of nursing homes, 35 percent of all falls, speaks to how staff negligence can lead to injuries from falls.

Another factor in the frequency of falls is the amount or type of medication a resident receives. If these medications—in particular, sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs—are given incorrectly, then they will frequently have a negative effect on a resident’s ability to walk. This mistake may make an otherwise able-bodied senior citizen unable to safely navigate their way through the home.

Learn more about common causes of nursing home falls.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is startlingly common among the elderly. Reports of nursing home residents being slapped, pushed, punched, or kicked are not uncommon. In fact, one in three nursing homes in the United States has been reported for an abuse or violation.

If a resident is unable to communicate, then the abuse may go on for some time, perhaps until the time of her death. Even if the resident is able to communicate, she may be too confused to report it or may be coerced into not telling family or friends about the abuse. Outward signs of abuse are the only real evidence, and often these may be incorrectly attributed to the easily bruised skin of the elderly.

There are some signs of abuse that family members should be on the lookout for when visiting the nursing home. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, these signs may include:

  • Bruises, black eyes, welts, lacerations, and rope marks.
  • Bone fractures, broken bones, and skull fractures.
  • Open wounds, cuts, punctures, untreated injuries in various stages of healing.
  • Sprains, dislocations, and internal injuries or bleeding.
  • Broken eyeglasses or frames, physical signs of being subjected to punishment, and signs of being restrained.
  • Laboratory findings of medication overdose or under-utilization of prescribed drugs.
  • An elder’s report of being hit, slapped, kicked, or mistreated.
  • An elder’s sudden change in behavior.
  • The caregiver’s refusal to allow visitors to see an elder alone.

Up to 20 percent of nursing homes have had sexual or physical abuse incidents that have not been reported to the police. Often, the abuse is reported only internally. If the management does not bring the abuse to the attention of the family then they are unaware that it has occurred. By not notifying the authorities, nursing home staff and management are looking out for their own well-being and funding and not for the well-being of their residents.

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse of nursing home residents is rampant. Elderly residents may be berated, threatened, forced into isolation, ignored, ridiculed, or worse. Forced isolation can have serious psychological consequences and regularly leads to physical injury. This type of abuse can be harder to recognize as it leaves no physical marks. However, any emotional abuse can be extremely stressful and can be an indicator that the resident may be more likely to be physically harmed.

Some of the signs of emotional abuse of the elderly are:

  • Being emotionally upset or agitated
  • Being extremely withdrawn and non-communicative or non-responsive.
  • Unusual behavior usually attributed to dementia (e.g., sucking, biting, rocking).
  • An elder’s report of being verbally or emotionally mistreated.

Medication Errors

A nursing home resident must be given the correct medications, in the correct dosages, and at the correct times in order to prevent serious and potentially deadly consequences. According to one study, more than half of medication-related injuries in nursing homes are preventable. Some of these medication-related injuries are due to nursing home abuse or neglect.

Consider what could happen, for example, if a resident:

  • Does not receive his or her medication.
  • Is given another resident’s medication.
  • Is provided medication in a form (such as a pill) that he or she cannot ingest.
  • Receives a double dose of medication or skips a dose of medication.

These problems can occur at any time. However, at least one study suggests that more than 10 percent of medication errors occur as a resident is making the transition into a nursing home. Moving into a nursing home can be risky because of staff communication issues, problems getting the required medications, prescription transcription errors, and confusion before a routine is developed.

These types of medication errors are more than unfortunate mistakes. They can often be prevented with due care and as a result when a medication error occurs at a Kentucky nursing home it is often the result of staff neglect.

Some medication errors can also be the result of nursing home abuse. Sometimes nursing home residents are purposely overmedicated. If a resident is seen as a wandering risk or if she has even mild psychological disorders, then staff may overmedicate her. This is seen as easier for the caregiver, but it is a form of nursing home abuse. It is a dangerous and irresponsible practice. The overuse of sedatives in the elderly can have long-term mental and physical repercussions, and may even result in death.

Malnutrition and Dehydration

When a person is unable to feed himself, he must be assisted in order to avoid malnutrition or dehydration. It is estimated that at least one-third of the nation’s nursing home residents are suffering from dehydration or malnutrition. However, a shortage of staffing inside the nursing homes has led to residents being left with food in front of them that they are unable to eat.

Even if residents are able to feed themselves, they may not be eating enough to get the nutrients they need. Without careful attention to caloric intake residents can easily become malnourished.

Improper Hygiene

The lack of proper personal hygiene can be embarrassing to a bed-ridden adult. Beyond embarrassment, poor hygiene can be extremely harmful to nursing home residents. If caregivers do not keep residents clean and dry, the painful and dangerous bedsores discussed above are much more likely to occur. In addition, illness is more easily spread where residents are not kept clean.


The nature of a nursing home, elderly persons seeking care, makes it apparent that its residents are in need of additional help. If the resident is unable to perform a basic self-care routine, then the routine is the responsibility of the staff. One of the most serious side-effects of nursing home neglect is decubitus ulcers, also known as bedsores or pressure sores.

Wrongful Death

Many nursing home occupants will end their days in the facility. However, there are times when a resident’s life is cut short. Wrongful death can be caused by neglect, physical abuse, bedsores which worsen and lead to sepsis, falls, medication errors, malnutrition, and other forms of abuse and neglect.

If a loved one has been neglected or abused in a Kentucky nursing home, please call Gray and White Law for a FREE CONSULTATION.

Gray and White Law
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(502) 210-8942 or 888-450-4456 (toll free)

Matthew L. White
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Founder & Partner of Louisville Personal Injury Law Firm Gray & White Law

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