According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, one in 20 nursing home patients is the victim of abuse or neglect, and the actual number may be much higher because neglect and mistreatment often goes unreported. The issues involved range from poor nutrition and hygiene to medication issues, to neglect of patients' needs and sometimes outright abuse. People with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, stroke and cardiac patients, people with mental illness or retardation, and people with limited mobility or inability to communicate may be at particular risk of abuse at the hands of caregivers because they may be unable to articulate the kind of treatment they receive. Moreover, complaints may be disregarded or chalked up to confusion and unreliable memory or families may not even report abuse out of fear of retaliation from staff.
Staffing-both numbers and quality-is a serious problem for many facilities. Many facilities and rehabilitation locations are understaffed and personnel are poorly trained, creating the potential for neglect as too few staff members try to care for too many patients. What adds to this staffing issue is that 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. Beyond the risks to the patients, these drugs are costly to the Medicare program, which reportedly spent $7.6 billion on this class of drugs in 2011, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
A recent report in The New York Times said lack of proper oral hygiene in nursing home patients can lead to serious health problems. Residents whose teeth are not cleaned regularly and who do not receive dental care can suffer pain, broken teeth, and gum disease, all of which may interfere with the inability to eat properly and the development of infections, including pneumonia, when oral bacteria enter the bloodstream.
Elder care advocates say the vigilance of family and friends is the best defense against abuse and neglect. Those who see signs of mistreatment must act on them. Some signs include bedsores; weight loss because the facility does not have adequate staff to ensure patients have the help they need to eat; frequent injuries, which can be the result of falls or rough handling by staff; poor hygiene; and fear or changes in the patient's usual mood and demeanor.
New York's attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, who has pursued incidents of nursing home abuse, has been keenly quoted as saying "When families make the difficult decision to place the care of their loved ones in the hands of a nursing home, there's an expectation that they will be shown compassion and respect-not physical abuse and neglect."
Long Island personal injury law firm Parker Waichman LLP has helped many families take action against negligent facilities and abusive staff members.
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