Nursing Home Abuse - What is Nursing Home Abuse?

Nursing home abuse is common in the United States. Older adults get hurt, are neglected, and even die in the same facilities where they should be receiving proper care.

According to the federal government, “nursing home abuse means the willful infliction of injury, unreasonable confinements, intimidation, or punishment with resulting physical harm, pain, or mental anguish.” Nursing home abuse involves harm or injury done to an older adult intended to cause pain, suffering, or impairment.

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) found that nursing home abuse:

Increases the chances of death by 300%

Triples the chances of hospitalization

Leads to future medical problems and disabilities

Increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and other psychological issues

Nursing home abuse can be physical, mental, emotional, and sexual. The NCOA states that nursing home abuse includes:

  • Physical abuse, which can be made apparent by bruises or unexplained falls
  • Sexual abuse, including any sexual activity without consent
  • Neglect, indicated by matted hair, dirty bedding, and so on
  • Emotional abuse, such as verbal threats and harassment
  • Financial exploitation, such as forged financial documents or missing personal belongings

How common is nursing
home abuse?

Financial nursing home abuse is a pervasive problem.S. A 2019 bipartisan Senate investigation, leading to reform efforts, found that poor resident care is “common” in about 5% of the nation’s care facilities.

According to the NCOA, approximately 5,000,000 elderly persons are abused every year.

A 2017 study based on evidence from 52 pieces of research estimated that 15.7% of people over 60 years old are subjected to abuse. On top of that, 96% of elder abuse cases go unreported.

In an Atlanta Long Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman Program study of 80 residents in 23 Georgia-based nursing homes, 44% of the respondents experienced abuse, while 48% experienced mistreatment. In addition, 38% percent of respondents witnessed fellow residents abused, while 44% had seen others being mistreated.

A survey involving 577 nursing aides from 31 care facilities revealed that 36% of caregivers had witnessed some form of elder abuse within 12 months.

Overall, elder abuse affects hundreds of thousands of families annually. In 2013 alone, the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) noted approximately 10,000 care facility complaints related to elder abuse.

Recent Cases of Nursing Home Abuse

types of nursing home abuse chart

Types of Nursing Home Abuse

Elder abuse can take many forms, including:

What causes nursing
home abuse?

The causes of elder abuse depend on the quality of the care facility, its policies, staff members, and operation and management. Regardless, there tend to be some common contributing factors, such as:

When there is not enough staff to care for the nursing home residents, aides can be overloaded and overworked, which can lead to patient malnourishment and dehydration in nursing home residents. The prevalence of understaffing can make it hard for employees to respond properly.

Unfortunately, understaffing in nursing homes is on the rise. A report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group noted that 20% of U.S. nursing homes were understaffed as of December 2020.

When care facilities fail to screen their employees properly, they can endanger their residents. Aides with a history of abuse or drug addiction are more likely to abuse people in long-term care facilities.

Untrained or poorly trained staff are more likely to be abusive, especially when dealing with residents with aggressive or combative behaviors.

Risk Factors in Nursing

Any person in a care facility may suffer from elder abuse. However, some residents are at a higher risk due to the following factors:


According to an NCVC survey, 66% of elder abuse cases involve women. That figure may be attributed to the high population of women in care facilities.

Socioeconomic Status

Scientific studies suggest a link between lower socioeconomic status and nursing home abuse. For example, elderly persons relying on Medicaid to pay for their care in long-term care facilities may wind up at lower-quality facilities.

Past Trauma

According to the NCEA, residents who have experienced traumatic events or abuse are more likely to be abused in the future.

Health Problems

Poor physical and mental health may increase the chances of elder abuse. For instance, residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s are more vulnerable to elder abuse. According to NCEA and NCOA, nearly 50% of residents with dementia experience elder neglect or abuse.

Aggressive Behavior

Residents with tendencies towards physical aggressiveness are at higher risk of abuse. Regardless of the cause, many staff members view combative residents’ behaviors as intentional attempts to be difficult. That makes it more likely for such residents to be abused or mistreated.

Warning Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

Here are some of the signs to look out for in cases of suspected nursing home abuse.

How can you prevent nursing home abuse?

Nursing home abuse prevention is complex. It requires the involvement of different parties, including residents, nursing staff, and the government. There are many ways to proactively prevent abuse, including the following:


  • Understand the different forms of abuse that can
    occur in a care facility
  • Learn nursing home policies, services, and
  • Express concerns about abuse to staff members,
    administrators, social workers, doctors, and nursing directors
  • Inform a loved one that you believe abuse is taking
  • Document evidence
  • Reach out to state survey agencies or a long-term
    care ombudsman

Friends and Relatives

  • Review different care facilities and choose a
    reputable one
  • Visit long-term care facilities to ascertain their
  • Visit and check in on your loved one often
  • Take any complaints from your loved one seriously
  • Notify relevant authorities about any abuse

Additionally, when deciding on the best care facility for your elderly loved one, consider choosing a nursing home that properly vets its staff members. Nursing home staff should communicate transparently with residents and their family members about boundaries, services and medications.

Ensure that the nursing home:

  • Has written procedures and policies that prevent, prohibit, and investigate abuse
  • Trains staff members on what constitutes elder abuse and steps for reporting incidents
  • Screens every employee thoroughly before hiring
  • Adopts policies that foster abuse disclosure in a non-victimizing manner
  • Posts contact details for all relevant authorities dealing with nursing home abuse
  • Maintains a sustainable staff-to-resident ratio
  • Implements caregiver support interventions.
  • Implements caregiver training on Alzheimer’s and dementia
  • Installs quality monitoring systems

There are no fail-proof ways of preventing elder abuse, but the above strategies can serve as a starting point for seniors and their families.

Nursing Home Abuse Laws

Several national laws have been enacted in America to ensure every citizen is treated with respect and dignity, regardless of age. Elder protection laws include:

State Laws & Statutes

Individual states also have laws that help prevent elder abuse in care facilities. Elder protective services (EPS) or Adult Protective Services (APS) are present in all states. Some states have multiple statutes and laws; thus, the level of abuse support varies by state. Overall, the APS and EPS help ensure a base level of older adults’ protection.

In addition, long-term care ombudsman programs exist in all states. They ensure high-quality care in nursing homes to prevent neglect and injuries like bedsores or broken bones in the nursing home to prevent neglect and injuries like bedsores or broken bones in the nursing home. The programs also protect the rights of elderly persons by investigating abuse and neglect complaints and holding nursing homes responsible for their actions.

Finally, institutional abuse laws, criminal laws, and mandatory reporting laws vary by state, but exist to protect victims of abuse.

Can I sue a nursing home for abuse or neglect?

The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 states that care facility residents have the “right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical, and mental abuse, corporal punishment, and involuntary seclusion.” If a facility or its staff members violates this law, they may be liable for elder abuse.

On their end, care facilities are obligated to hire caring aides and train them to provide the best care possible. They must also employ enough caregivers to cater to residents adequately.

Thus, a long-term care facility can be liable for abuse in cases of:

  • Understaffing
  • Negligent hiring
  • Medication errors
  • Inadequate training

If a staff member harms a resident intentionally or through neglect, they may be liable for the abuse and associated damages. The same goes for any hired contractors.

How can a nursing home abuse lawyer help me?

If you believe that your loved one is experiencing elder abuse of any kind. Whether it’s physical, mental, sexual or emotional abuse, a nursing home abuse lawyer can help with the following:

  • Identifying signs of abuse
  • Investigating reports of abuse
  • Establishing legal theories
  • Quantifying damages
  • Reporting damages
  • Exploring options to determine the best course of action

Your loved one has a legal right to be treated well. If you believe a family member was injured due to elder abuse, maltreatment, or neglect in a nursing home, contact us for a free case evaluation.