The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that one in 20 nursing home patients is the victim of abuse or neglect, and the number may be much higher because much of this mistreatment goes unreported. There are many types of abuse and neglect, ranging from failure to provide proper nutrition and hygiene to overuse of antipsychotic drugs, neglect of a patient's needs, and outright physical, sexual or other abuse. Some patients are more vulnerable than others: people with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, stroke and cardiac patients, people with mental illness, and people with limited mobility or inability to communicate are all at risk of abuse at the hands of caregivers. Many nursing home residents, especially those with limited or impaired ability to communicate, are unable to articulate their mistreatment or their complaints are dismissed as imagined because of confusion and unreliable memory. In many instances, patients or their families do not report abuse for fear of retaliation from staff.
Staffing can be a major problem for even the best-run facilities. Many nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities are understaffed and personnel are poorly paid and poorly trained, creating the potential for neglect, as too few staff members struggle to care for too many patients. For these reasons, there is high staff turnover at many facilities.
According to the Wall Street Journal, many nursing homes overuse antipsychotic drugs to control agitated patients, but these drugs increase the risk of death in patients with dementia. Some sleep medications can be dangerous for nursing home residents because they cause disorientation and impair balance, increasing the risk of falls.
Elder care advocates say families must be alert to signs of abuse and neglect, some of them subtle, and act on the signs. They include bedsores, which can develop when the patient is left in bed for long periods without repositioning; weight loss because the facility does not have adequate staff to ensure patients have assistance eating; frequent injuries, which can be the result of falls or rough handling of frail individuals; cuts and bruises, poor hygiene; and changes in the patient's mood and demeanor.
All over the country, patients and families are seeking legal help in incidents of nursing home abuse and neglect. Families can turn to Florida law firm Parker Waichman LLP for help in taking action against negligent facilities and abusive staff members.
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