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What Constitutes Elder Abuse?

Nursing Home AbuseElder abuse is a significant problem throughout the country. Some studies estimate that only one in 23 cases ends up reported. Many people simply do not know the broad range of behaviors that are considered abuse.

Broadly speaking, elder abuse is defined as “intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm to an older person (whether or not harm is intended)” In reality, it is more complicated than that. There is a person who is suffering and a family charged with protecting them.

Other definitions of elder abuse also discuss a failure to act that puts the senior in danger, consistent with the fact that neglect is also a form of abuse. In reality, those tasked with caring for or interacting with a senior have a list of things that they cannot do and another one that they must. Whether it is an action or an omission, the effect on your loved one ends up the same.

Families May Not Realize That Certain Conduct Is Abuse

One thing that gets in the way of families detecting and reporting abuse is the fact that they might not realize that something would meet the legal definition. They may certainly understand that physical and sexual abuse are illegal, but they may not realize that other practices are. It is only when families understand exactly what they are looking for that they can fully act to protect their loved ones.

While theoretical definitions help, it is even more useful to know more about each of the different kinds of elder abuse. The different categories of elder abuse depend on whom you ask, but most experts see five to seven classifications.

The prohibition against elder abuse in nursing homes comes from the Code of Federal Regulations. This federal rule guarantees residents’ rights. The rule says that they have the right to be free from abuse, neglect, and misappropriation of property.

The rule defines abuse as:

“[T]he willful infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or punishment with resulting physical harm, pain or mental anguish.”

Then, the rule continues to say that abuse includes verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and mental abuse.

Based on the federal rule, we would say that there are six different categories of abuse:

  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Mental abuse
  • Neglect

Physical Abuse

Many people think that the category of elder physical abuse is limited to situations where a staff member strikes a resident.

Many more things fall under the category of physical abuse, including:

  • Roughly treating or physically manhandling a senior
  • Shoving or pushing a senior
  • Other types of inappropriate force

In addition, nursing homes can be legally responsible when another resident strikes a senior since they have the legal responsibility to protect residents from all forms of abuse regardless of where it originates.

Another form of physical abuse is when a nursing home gives a resident unnecessary drugs to control their behavior. Nursing homes cannot freely dispense psychiatric drugs unless they follow strict rules. However, some facilities want to control difficult residents or simply do not have the staff to deal with seniors. They will give psychiatric or sedatives drugs as a form of chemical restraint.

Further, other forms of physical restraints are considered abuse. If the nursing home staff unnecessarily straps down a resident or keeps them in their bed, it is a physical restraint.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is often one of the more difficult forms of nursing home abuse to detect. The classification is much broader than you may think. Of course, sexual abuse includes situations where nursing home staff directly initiates sexual contact with the resident, but there are other forms of sexual exploitation. For example, some nursing home staff members have secretly recorded residents or taken pictures of body parts. The staff member could also violate the resident’s privacy as a voyeur.

The most common form of sexual abuse in a nursing facility is not committed by the staff. Fellow residents are more likely to commit sexual assault. Even though a staff member did not assault the resident, the nursing home is still legally responsible for what happened because the federal rule requires that they protect their residents from abuse, whether it occurs at the hands of staff or residents. Nursing homes must screen their residents and take steps to protect against one senior who may be a danger to others.

The problem is that many seniors suffer from cognitive decline and may not have the ability to report what happened to them. Alternatively, they may be too embarrassed to talk about what someone else did. Nonetheless, families should be vigilant for circumstantial evidence such as changes in appetite or agitation that could alert them to the fact that something happened. If your loved one says anything to you about possible sexual abuse, it is vital to report it immediately. The facility must report it to the state, which will then perform an investigation regardless of any doubts about the truth of the resident’s account.

Financial Exploitation

Both seniors living at home and those in long-term care facilities are at risk of financial exploitation. Any action that tries to deprive a senior of their assets or property can be financial abuse. Even the act of taking something that belongs to a senior away from them and out of their room can be financial abuse. Seniors may get attached to their possessions, especially if they do not have many things as they used to before they moved into the nursing home.

Of course, financial exploitation also covers various ways of stealing a senior’s money. Staff members or someone else in the facility can steal money out of a resident’s room. Alternatively, a person they trust or who has power over them could pressure or persuade them to change their will to cut out family members and include that person. Such pressure can also occur outside the nursing home setting, with a senior vulnerable to a caregiver or even a random stranger.

In the era of identity theft, you need to be extra concerned about financial abuse. Someone could gain access to a senior’s accounts and drain their money or run up credit in their name. Seniors are the most vulnerable sector in society when it comes to bank fraud since they may not understand some of the current technology, and they may have less capacity than they used to for financial decisions. To help prevent financial exploitation, family members should regularly check and review a senior’s accounts to look for any signs of irregularities.


Neglect is the only form of actionable nursing home abuse that does not require willful conduct.

The Code of Federal Regulations defines neglect as:

“…the failure of the facility, its employees or service providers to provide goods and services to a resident that are necessary to avoid physical harm, pain, mental anguish, or emotional distress.”

The nursing home has a legal obligation to care for your loved one on a day-to-day basis.

Federal nursing home rules are very detailed and govern practically everything that a nursing home does, covering such areas as:

  • Nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Hygiene
  • Changing soiled residents
  • Preventing infection
  • Ensuring that residents do not develop pressure ulcers

The reality of nursing home economics is that facilities often have an incentive to remain understaffed. The more they spend on vital things such as nurses, the less money that they make. This self-interest leaves residents uncared for, and that is a danger to their health. A lack of nutrition and hydration not only harms the resident’s health but also makes them more vulnerable to infections.

Neglect also could involve situations where the nursing home fails to supervise your loved one, leading to an injury. Such injuries can take place when the nursing home fails to have and implement a fall prevention plan. Neglect can even happen when your loved one escapes from the nursing home unsupervised and is injured.

Neglect is the most common type of nursing home lawsuit. People are injured when the nursing home fails to pay attention and do their job. Simply stated, neglect kills, and it is the form of abuse that could put your loved one’s life in the most danger. It is a failure to act that could kill your family member.

Pay close attention to your family member’s appearance when you come to visit. If you notice an odor or that they are otherwise unkempt, make sure to bring that to the attention of nursing home staff. If the nursing home takes no action concerning it, you should file a complaint with the state. In the end, if neglect injures your family member, you may receive financial compensation.

Verbal and Mental Abuse

We will group both of these types of abuse in the same category because they have similar effects on seniors. Words and conduct can hurt, especially when someone is in a vulnerable state due to their declining condition. It goes without saying that nursing home staff have an obligation to treat the vulnerable people that they care for with respect.

Some families may give the benefit of the doubt to a rude nursing home employee. One of the unfortunate truths of the nursing home industry is that staff are overworked, especially when nursing homes are understaffed. In such instances, the staff cannot handle their workload.

Of course, rudeness is not necessarily a violation of the law. However, staff’s behavior can cross a line in certain circumstances.

Examples of verbal and mental abuse in a nursing home include:

  • Continuously singling out one resident and blaming them for things
  • Cutting a resident off from communicating with their family
  • Calling a resident names and mocking them to other people
  • Raising their voice to a resident
  • Mocking a resident directly to them

There have even been awful examples of mental abuse when nursing home staff members have taken videos of struggling residents and posted them on their social media. Even if the senior never finds out about something like this, it is still exploitation and abuse and is grounds for a lawsuit.

While you may think that mental abuse is a less harmful form of mistreatment, it can have definite physical effects on your loved one. When your family member is under stress, it can affect how they eat and sleep. When they lose weight, it can harm their overall health and even make them more prone to infections. Your loved one does not even have to suffer a physical injury that is tied to mental abuse for the nursing home to be liable. You can receive compensation for the emotional distress and pain and suffering.

You Must Take Quick Action When You Suspect Elder Abuse

When you spot the signs of abuse, you must take action quickly to both protect your loved one and punish the responsible person. If you suspect abuse, you can either report it to the state directly or first speak to a nursing home attorney or ombudsman to discuss your concerns. Even if you speak to the nursing home directly, they must report the abuse to the relevant state authority.

Personal Injury lawyer

Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer, David Brauns

Not only can the nursing home face legal consequences from the state and federal government, but they can also be held liable for abuse in a civil lawsuit. First, a family must contact a nursing home abuse attorney to file a lawsuit. Not only could you receive financial compensation for the harm done to your loved one, but you could also make sure that the nursing home is held accountable. Taking this action could protect other families in the future.

It is important not to let a nursing home get away with what they did. While many cases of nursing home abuse go unreported because the mistreatment is never spotted, it is crucial to do something about it when you know what someone has done to your loved one.

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