Caregiver Abuse

Caregiver abuse in nursing homes is a violation of a senior citizen’s right to a safe, secure and comfortable environment.
caregiver abuse

Elder abuse occurs in nursing homes and private homes, often at the hands of caregivers. These trusted individuals betray the individuals that they are caring for and instead of promoting health and wellbeing, they inflict pain and suffering. With more than 1.4 million individuals living in nursing homes, the burden of caregiver abuse has the potential to be substantial.

In 2014, the National Ombudsman Reporting System (NORS) estimated that more than 14,000 complaints reported to the Ombudsman program involved abuse, neglect or exploitation. Furthermore, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that two out of three nursing home staff members report having committed some type of abuse in the past year.

caregiver abuse

What is Caregiver Abuse?

Caregiver abuse and neglect can take many forms, including:

  • Physical abuse: Includes bruises, cuts, burns, bedsores, broken bones, dental pain, dehydration, malnutrition, etc.
  • Psychological or emotional abuse: Includes verbal bullying, threatening, belittling, ignoring the resident, denying access to social activities, etc.
  • Sexual abuse: Includes unwanted advances, rape, assault, development of sexually-transmitted disease, etc.
  • Financial abuse: Includes stealing property or money, coercing the resident to change financial account access, coercing the resident to change their will, etc.

Within these categories, there are many acts or omissions that may constitute caregiver abuse or neglect. It is, therefore, imperative that family members and other representatives recognize the possible signs of caregiver abuse so they can take action immediately.

What are the Signs of Caregiver Abuse?

Nursing home abuse is unfortunately a severely underreported crime.  Often, the reason it is not reported is because it is not recognized. Either the resident is unable to report what is happening, or those visiting the resident do not notice potential red flags. That is why it is crucial to recognize the typical signs of caregiver abuse or neglect and take action quickly.

Signs of Physical or Sexual Abuse:

  • Unexplained bruises, fractures or bumps
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Body odor, greasy hair and unkempt appearance
  • Bruises on the breasts, genitals or buttocks
  • Indications of restraint use 
  • Depression or withdrawal from social activities

Signs of Psychological or Emotional Abuse:

  • Depression or anxiety not caused by known health issues or medication
  • Reluctance to speak in front of a particular caregiver
  • Fearful or cowering behavior
  • Unexplained social isolation
  • Acts of violence against others or self

Nursing Home Residents at a Higher Risk for Caregiver Abuse

An abusive caregiver is likely to target a victim who is unable to speak out.  A 2009 study by the National Council on Elder Affairs (NCEA) revealed that 50 percent of residents with dementia were abused or neglected.  Other risk factors include:

  • Lack of social or family support
  • Residents who need help with Activities of Daily Living (ADL)
  • Limited income or resources
  • Being a minority
  • Having disabilities

Why Caregivers Abuse or Neglect their Patients

Many nurses and aides choose to work with the elderly.  They find it challenging but rewarding.  In addition, nursing facilities are supposed to carefully screen applicants.  So, what could make some caregivers turn on their aging patients?

Nothing excuses the deliberate abuse or neglect of senior citizens.  They are among the most vulnerable members of society and deserve compassion, respect and dignity.  However, there are conditions that can increase the risk of caregiver abuse, such as:

  • Staffing shortages
  • Underpaid staff
  • Working multiple shifts (overtime)
  • Poor or insufficient training
  • Inadequate supervision and accountability
  • Job stress and burnout
  • Personal issues such as divorce, family illness or death or financial troubles
  • Poor personal physical or mental health and illness
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Personal history of abuse or being involved in an abusive relationship
  • Issues of hostility, negativity and aggression
  • Lack of proper social and problem-solving skills

How to Protect Nursing Home Residents from Caregiver Abuse

The best way to shield a loved one from an abusive caregiver is to remain involved and active in their daily lives.  Nursing home residents who have regular visitors, phone calls and outings are more visible to staff.  This makes them less likely targets when compared to a bedridden resident with little family interaction.  Furthermore, the more involved you are, the more likely you are to know what is normal for your loved one, and what may be a sign of a problem.

If you live far from your elderly loved one, arrange for a friend or even a nursing home abuse lawyer to drop in for a visit. As much as possible, be a presence in your loved one’s life.

Caregiver abuse in nursing homes is a nationwide concern.  If you believe your loved one might be suffering abuse or neglect, contact Fight Nursing Home Abuse for a free, no-obligation consultation. Let our nursing home abuse lawyer help you fight caregiver abuse and protect your loved one. To get started, call 1-866-548-9636, or fill out our online contact form.

meagan cline

Written By Meagan Cline

Meagan Cline is a professional legal researcher and writer. She lends her expertise to FNHA and our websites, including Birth Injury Guide and