What Are the Signs of Nursing Home Abuse?

Reviewed by Louis Patino, JD, DC

Louis Patino, JD, DC
A former U.S. Army Combat Medic, Dr. Louis Patino is a distinguished attorney recognised by Top Attorneys of America, Expertise, and the American Institute of Trial Lawyers. He has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Southern University and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic.

With life expectancy ever increasing, the number of elderly Americans in nursing homes continues to rise. While it’s always a difficult decision to place a loved one under someone else’s care, it’s one made out of love and a desire to ensure that they receive the treatment and daily assistance they need. When an elderly loved one has a chronic condition or needs support carrying out daily activities, such as preparing and eating meals, bathing, or general mobility, choosing long-term care can be the best scenario for all involved. This is especially the case when family members may not be able to offer round-the-clock support due to work or other family commitments.

Unfortunately, in some cases, nursing homes and other elder care facilities fail to provide even the most basic standard of care. But how do you spot the signs of nursing home abuse?

What Is Nursing Home Abuse?

Nursing home abuse and negligence can have serious consequences for elderly victims. Sadly, elderly residents are often too afraid to report this deplorable behavior. Particularly for older residents who have difficulty communicating, the signs of abuse may go undetected for years.

This has only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. In March 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott urged Texans to stay at home except to carry out essential activities. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities also shut their doors to visitors, leaving loved ones facing an agonizing wait to see their elderly relatives again.

The devastating truth is that abuse likely continued behind closed doors, with family members unable to spot the more obvious warning signs due to not being able to visit. The prevalence of nursing home abuse is shocking: the World Health Organization reports that two in three nursing home staff admitted to committing abuse in the past year.

If you have a loved one in a nursing home, it’s vital to recognize the signs of abuse. Physical injuries can be devastating, but while the wounds may heal, nursing home abuse can have irreparable consequences, including premature mortality and cognitive decline.

The Common Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

The Nursing Home Reform Act regulates the standards of care nursing homes in the United States must adhere to. This legislation states that residents have the right to be free from abuse, mistreatment, and neglect.

Abuse can take many forms, including inflicting physical injury, committing sexual assault, and intimidating or confining individuals. Neglect differs from abuse in that it’s a failure — intentional or not — to provide care that would otherwise keep them safe from harm or pain.

Families with loved ones in a nursing home or assisted living facility should especially look out for:

Emotional withdrawal

Emotional abuse is just as serious as other forms of abuse and can have a deep and lasting impact. It can also be more difficult to spot because the signs aren’t necessarily obvious. If a resident is being abused in a nursing home, they may become withdrawn. Your loved one may not seem like their usual self, and they may be more easily upset or agitated, or reluctant to speak while staff members are present. They may even be completely non-communicative and show no interest in hobbies or activities they’ve previously enjoyed.

Unexplained bruises and scars

Injuries are often more common in the elderly. An innocent bump against a piece of furniture can do a lot more harm because the skin is thinner, while some medications, especially those that thin the blood, can make the body more vulnerable to bruising and skin tears. However, bruises and scars are also often tell-tale signs of physical abuse. If you notice your loved one has bruises, scars, burns, or marks they can’t explain, it’s important to investigate.


Bedsores happen when excess pressure is placed on the skin and isn’t alleviated, causing painful ulcers from lack of blood flow. Elderly individuals with disabilities or mobility issues are more at risk of developing bedsores, as they often can’t move independently. However, bedsores are preventable, and nursing home staff should regularly attend to residents to prevent them from sitting or lying in the same spot for hours at a time. If your loved one has bedsores, it may be a sign of neglect, and it’s important to watch out for this injury, as left untreated, bedsores can break the skin and cause potentially life-threatening infections.

Abrupt weight loss

If you haven’t seen your loved one in a while and have noticed that they’ve lost a significant amount of weight, they may be suffering from malnutrition.

We put our loved ones into care facilities because we trust they will be well-fed and looked after, and it’s devastating when they aren’t afforded the most basic and necessary care. Aside from weight loss, common signs of malnutrition include hair loss, poor concentration, and fatigue. Malnutrition can also be a consequence of other forms of abuse, such as losing interest in eating due to being intimidated or feeling humiliated by nursing home staff.

What to Do If Your Loved One Is Being Abused in a Nursing Home

If you suspect that your elderly loved one is being abused or neglected, you should remove them to safety as soon as possible. You should also contact a nursing home abuse lawyer in Texas to learn more about your legal rights and options.

The elderly deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and when nursing homes fail to provide this standard of care, they may be held liable for the consequences of their carelessness and cruelty.

Contact the compassionate yet tenacious personal injury attorneys at Patino Law Firm today to get justice for a loved one who has suffered abuse or neglect in a nursing home.

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