Types of Nursing Home Abuse

Common Types of Abuse in Nursing Homes: Facts & Statistics

It’s not unusual for American families with seniors or dependent adults to rely upon the help of a caregiving facility — according to data from 2009 and 2010, there are 16,639 nursing homes and 52,681 assisted living facilities across the U.S., with 3.2 million people living in them.

Unfortunately, it’s also not unusual for these long-term care facility residents to experience some form of abuse. Data from one survey of nursing home residents done in 2000 showed 44% had been abused, and 95% said they had been neglected, or had seen another resident neglected.

Although the types of elder abuse vary, they all inflict some kind of pain or discomfort on a patient, either through intentional actions or inactions. Data from the National Ombudsman Reporting System in 2010 shows of all reported incidents:

  • 27% are physical abuse
  • 22.5% are psychological or emotional abuse
  • 18% are resident to resident abuse
  • 14.5% are neglected
  • 11% are financial exploitation
  • 7% are sexual abuse

Physical Elder Abuse and Neglect

Physical abuse is the infliction of bodily harm upon a resident. While physical abuse is an action taken against a nursing home resident and is often intentional, inaction can also be abusive and is known as neglect. Victims of neglect are not given basic and necessary care, such as regular bathing or wound treatment.

Signs of Physical Abuse

An elderly resident who is suffering from physical abuse will likely exhibit visible injuries. Signs of physical abuse can include:

  • Broken bones
  • Bruises
  • Scratches
  • Burns
  • Black eyes
  • Cuts, scrapes and other abrasions
  • Torn clothing

Examples of physical abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • Kicking
  • Hitting
  • Slapping
  • Biting
  • Whipping
  • Shoving
  • Pinching
  • Burning
  • Use of physical restraints

Signs of Nursing Home Neglect

It may be harder to notice if nursing home residents are victims of neglect because physical signs may not appear right away. However, over time, some signs of neglect may manifest as:

  • Persistent infections
  • Untreated wounds
  • Bedsores
  • Dehydration
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Poor hygiene
  • Wrongful death

There are different types of neglect, including:

  • Nutritional: food or water is withheld or altered in amount.
  • Medical: when medication is withheld or dosages altered.
  • Social: the resident is not able to socialize with others or see guests.
  • Hygienic: when the resident or their personal space is not kept clean and sanitary.
  • Environmental neglect: when a safe living environment for the resident is not provided.

Emotional and Psychological Abuse in Nursing Homes

Emotional or psychological abuse occurs when a caregiver causes a patient mental pain or distress — inflicted verbally or nonverbally.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Psychological abuse is often difficult to detect because it typically results in very few physical symptoms. Instead, most signs of abuse will manifest in ways such as:

  • Unexplained personality changes
  • Unexplained behavior changes
  • Depression
  • Fearful or anxious reactions
  • Withdrawal from normal activities

Examples of psychological abuse in nursing home facilities include:

  • Verbal degradation
  • Insults
  • Threats
  • Intimidation
  • Humiliation
  • Harassment
  • Bullying
  • Treating elderly patients like infants
  • Keeping patients in social isolation
  • Not allowing patients time alone with their family or friends
  • Giving patients the “silent treatment”

Sexual Abuse

If a nursing home resident is involved in giving or receiving any kind of sexual act they did not consent to, they are a victim of sexual abuse. While caregivers are often the abusers in the case of sexual abuse, sexual abuse in a nursing home can also occur between two residents.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

If a resident is a victim of sexual abuse, they may shy away from telling family members or loved ones. However, there are often some physical signs that reveal the abuse, including:

  • Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases or infections
  • Ripped or bloody underclothing
  • Bruises on the breasts, inner thighs, buttocks or genitalia

Sexual abuse can involve any number of unwanted or forced sexual acts between the care facility resident and another person. Some examples of sex acts include:

  • Oral sex
  • Anal sex
  • Vaginal sex
  • Sodomy
  • Masturbation
  • Manual stimulation
  • Touching or grabbing another person’s genitals
  • Exposing one’s genitals to another person

In addition to these acts, sexual abuse of an elder can also include:

  • Creating pornography, such as taking nude or staged video or pictures of a resident
  • Unwanted kissing
  • Sexual harassment such as making lewd comments or threatening a resident with an unwanted sexual act

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse or exploitation involves stealing, misusing or concealing funds, property or assets from a nursing home resident that does not benefit the resident. The exploiter may be a caregiver or someone in a trusting relationship with the resident, like a guardian. National Ombudsman Reporting System data from 2010 shows financial exploitation is twice as likely to occur in a board and care or assisted living facility than it is in a nursing home.

Signs of Financial Abuse

Detecting financial abuse is easier for family members or loved ones who have access to a person’s finances, but others may still be able to uncover exploitation, even if they don’t have access. Some signs of financial abuse of an elder include:

  • Missing financial documents
  • Sudden withdrawals from bank accounts
  • Unexpected overdraft charges from bank accounts
  • Small thefts of toiletries or other belongings
  • Large thefts or sales of a resident’s valuable belongings, such as jewelry or vehicles

Some examples of financial abuse include:

  • Forging signatures
  • Adding names to a resident’s bank accounts
  • Cashing checks without their permission
  • Improper use of conservatorship, guardianship or power of attorney
  • Selling property, such as jewelry, car or home, without their permission
  • Depriving a resident access to their bank accounts, property or benefits


Abandonment is the desertion of an elderly person who is dependent on a caregiver or legal guardian. Abandonment is intended to be permanent. Seniors that require more intensive care, like constant supervision or extensive financial resources, are more likely to be victims of abandonment than others.

Signs of Abandonment

Some signs of abandonment include:

  • When a senior in a public place or medical care facility looks confused, frightened or lost
  • When a caregiver does not return to pick up an elderly person after a specified period of time, like after an appointment
  • When a caregiver cannot be reached by phone or in person, such as having moved or changed their phone number

Examples of abandonment include:

  • Desertion of a vulnerable senior at a public location like a shopping mall or park
  • Desertion of a vulnerable senior at a care facility, like a hospital, doctor’s office or nursing home

Taking Action Against Nursing Home Abuse

As the Baby Boomer generation continues to age and require residential care, the number of people in long-term care facilities will only grow. Sadly, nursing home abuse cases may likely grow in tandem.

There are some preventative measures families and loved ones of residents can take to ensure nursing home abuse is not taking place, including:

  • Making frequent visits to the care facility
  • Staying in close contact with the resident’s doctor
  • Paying attention to any changes in the resident’s physical appearance or behavior
  • Noting if the facility won’t allow guests to see the resident alone
  • Monitoring the resident’s personal property, valuables and finances

If families or loved ones suspect nursing home abuse of any kind, they should:

  • Immediately remove the elder from the caregiving facility
  • Call the police to report the suspected incident
  • File a complaint with the nursing home or assisted living facility
  • File a complaint with any relevant government agencies in your county or state, such as a board or division on aging
  • Pursue legal action for justice and financial compensation

Pursuing Legal Action

If your family member or loved one has suffered from any kind of nursing home abuse, the nursing home may be liable for physical, emotional and financial costs the resident incurred while staying there. Pursuing these types of cases in court can be difficult and confusing, but can result in significant settlements and the reassurance that another family’s loved one will not have the same experience at that facility.

If you are considering legal action with regard to nursing home abuse, Dansky | Katz | Ringold invites you to contact a member of our team for a free legal consultation. We have offices located in Marlton, Somerville, Northfield, Woodbury and Philadelphia. Our firm has spent more than 30 years helping victims of nursing home abuse win personal injury cases, seeking maximum damages for your family’s suffering and — most importantly — fighting for the dignity of your loved one.



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