How to Detect Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

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By Marcus Fernandez

Like all elders, residents of nursing homes are at risk for abuse and neglect. Some residents may not report poor treatment by caregivers for fear that the abuse will escalate as a result. Also, they may not be able to clearly communicate about the problem due to cognitive difficulties or psychiatric conditions such as depression. They may be physically and emotionally unable to defend themselves against mistreatment. So, it’s often up to the families of residents to detect nursing home abuse and report it.

According to the Nursing Home Abuse Center, there was a 74 percent increase in Florida nursing home abuse reports from 2011 to 2015. The signs of abuse and neglect are sometimes obvious. Although sometimes the abuse is not immediately apparent. Abuse can occur for long periods if no one notices that it’s happening. You can help protect your loved one by watching for warning signs of abuse and neglect, and a lawyer can help you determine your next steps.

Detect Physical Abuse at Nursing Homes

Physical abuse is usually the easiest form of nursing home abuse to detect because the effects are visible. Some common signs of physical abuse to elders are:

  • Bone breaks, fractures, or dislocations not explained by a fall or other accident. Experienced medical professionals know how to distinguish injuries incurred in falls from those caused by battering and other forms of assault.  
  • Bruising and other marks on the skin that may indicate grabbing, hitting, or restraint.
  • Broken eyeglasses. This can be a sign that the resident has been struck in the face. 
  • Exaggerated startle response. A resident may be on guard for another assault if a caregiver has physically harmed them.
  • Social withdrawal. A resident may become isolated as a self-protective measure, out of fear of again being physically hurt. 

Detect Emotional Abuse at Nursing Homes

Emotional abuse is not as obvious as physical abuse, and its effects can be mistaken as common signs of aging. It may manifest in the resident’s behavior or the caregiver’s. If it goes undetected, emotional abuse can occur over a long period of time. Some signs of emotional abuse to look out for:

  • Rocking, mumbling, sucking, and other repetitive behaviors. These are possible indicators that a resident feels the need to self-soothe as a result of being yelled at or otherwise verbally attacked.
  • Fear of being left alone, especially with a particular caregiver. That caregiver may be mistreating the resident when others aren’t around to witness the abuse.
  • Suspicious caregiver behavior, such as being demeaning or threatening to a resident. Clearly, such caregivers are not treating residents with dignity, respect, and empathy, and they may be taking out their frustrations with their jobs.
  • Refusal to take medication. This may indicate that the resident has been terrorized to the point where he or she loses the will to follow treatment plans laid out by their physicians.

An attorney at  Kinney, Fernandez, and Boire Law can help you decide on a course of action if you spot warning signs of physical or emotional abuse.

Detect Sexual Abuse at Nursing Homes

Sexual abuse is often not as apparent as other types of physical abuse, but certain signs should raise an alarm.

  • Bleeding from the vagina or rectum.
  • STDs and other venereal infections.
  • Bruises on the genital area or breasts.
  • Blood, stains, or rips on undergarments.

Contact a Tampa attorney at KF&B Law if you see any of the red flags for sexual abuse in your loved one.

Financial Exploitation of Elders

Financial exploitation occurs when a resident is coerced or deceived into giving money away or changing legal documents. There is plenty of paper trail and records to prove this abuse. However, it may not be readily apparent unless a loved one is closely monitoring a resident’s finances.

  • Spending that the resident is unable to explain or recall.
  • ATM withdrawals when the resident is confined to a bed.
  • Signing over power of attorney or changing the beneficiaries of life insurance policies or wills.
  • Cash that goes missing from the senior’s room without explanation.


Neglect is often general in nature, but the warnings can be numerous. According to the Florida Health Care Association, there are 691 licensed nursing homes in Florida, representing approximately 84,448 beds. That’s a lot of residents to look after. Be aware of these signs in order to detect nursing home abuse in the form of neglect, as it’s one of the most common.

  • Appearing dirty or untidy. This is an indication that a resident is not receiving adequate personal care. 
  • Lack of cleanliness in the resident’s room. This is a sign that nursing home staff are not maintaining the living environment.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Frequent dehydration
  • Bed sores. This indicates that a resident is in bed too long.
  • Caregivers’ failure to report illnesses and infections to the senior’s doctor and family.
  • Inattentiveness or callous attitude on the part of caregivers.
  • Caregivers’ failure to promptly change a resident’s soiled diapers and clothing.

A Tampa personal injury lawyer from Kinney, Fernandez and Boire can help you take action against caregivers who may be harming your loved one. We understand it can be deeply upsetting to contemplate abuse and neglect in the very place you’ve trusted to take care of your elderly relative, but you may be his or her only advocate.