Nursing home abuse and neglect are surprisingly common

nursing home istock 300x195Recently, a retired scientist named Joseph Shepter died after a two-year stay at a California nursing home. He had been paralyzed from a stroke and suffered from dementia. The cause of his death was listed as heart failure, and his family naturally assumed that was correct.

But a later investigation revealed that he had actually died from symptoms of poor care, including an infected ulcer, pneumonia, dehydration and sepsis. He had also been given powerful antipsychotic drugs, which can have deadly side effects.

Shepter was not alone. Elderly patients are being neglected and mistreated in nursing homes far more frequently than most people realize.

The problem isn’t always that nursing home staff members are malicious – many obviously care a great deal about the patients. Often, the problem lies with the nursing home management. A large number of nursing homes are understaffed, and the staff they do have are sometimes poorly trained and don’t know how to properly care for the residents. Many nursing homes have high staff turnover, and as a result, patients get lost in the shuffle. And if management pays low wages and treats its staff poorly, the staff might not be motivated to treat patients the way they should.

These conditions can lead to situations where patients are neglected or mistreated, resulting in physical and psychological harm … and in a number of cases, even death.

One reason we don’t hear more about the problem is that many deaths related to nursing-home abuse are never identified or reported. Doctors often simply assume that an elderly person’s “time has come,” and fail to fully investigate what may have happened. One recent survey found that autopsies were performed on fewer than one percent of all senior citizens who died in nursing homes.

If you have a loved one in a nursing home, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for any changes or problems, and for anything that makes you feel suspicious. This could include unusual bruises, cuts or marks on the person’s body; mood changes; withdrawal; bedsores; unexplained injuries or infections; rapid weight loss or gain; psychological changes or indications that the person feels scared or uncomfortable; the person’s appearing malnourished or dehydrated; or any sudden changes to medications, especially sedatives.

If the nursing home is uncooperative in response to your questions, that might be a sign that there’s something to investigate. It’s a good idea explore what legal rights you have.