Elder Abuse and Neglect in California’s Nursing Homes: Spotting the Signs

by Staff Blogger | November 20th, 2023

Elderly nursing home residents are susceptible to abuse and neglect due to their frailty, dependence on caregivers, and potential cognitive impairments, making it challenging for families to know when their loved ones are facing harm.

Yet elder abuse in nursing homes is more common than many might assume. In 2021, California’s Long-Term Ombudsman Program reported 7,056 complaints of abuse, gross neglect, or exploitation in nursing facilities.  These actions can include physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse or neglect by nursing home staff, administration, or other residents. Recognizing the types of neglect and abuse and their signs can help you protect your family member’s rights and safety.

If you fear that your elderly loved one may be suffering in silence, our compassionate California nursing home abuse lawyers may be able to support you, help gather necessary evidence, and guide you through the process of seeking compensation.

Understanding the Different Forms of Elder Abuse

Many people might assume that nursing home abuse solely involves physical harm, but elder mistreatment also includes emotional, financial, and sexual abuse. Neglect, too, is a form of abuse, distinguished by a lack of adequate care rather than direct harm to the resident.

  • Physical abuse. This occurs when someone inflicts physical pain or injury on a resident. It could be a caregiver hitting, slapping, or using force, leading to bruises, fractures, or burns.
  • Emotional abuse. This involves causing emotional distress or harm. It can arise from verbal assaults, threats, or humiliation by facility workers. For instance, nursing home staff may belittle or isolate the resident from others.
  • Sexual abuse. This refers to any unwelcome or non-consensual sexual interaction with a resident. The wrongdoers can be facility staff or fellow residents. Abuse may leave physical signs or injuries and typically inflict emotional distress on the victim.
  • Financial abuse. This concerns the illicit use or mismanagement of an elder’s assets. It involves a caregiver stealing money, misusing a power of attorney, or deceiving the elderly person into unfavorable agreements.
  • Neglect. Neglect is a disregard for the well-being of residents, often committed by overwhelmed, poorly trained, or uncaring nursing home staff. It includes failing to administer essential medications, leaving the resident in unsanitary conditions, or not providing necessities like food and water.

Recognizing Physical Signs of Elder Abuse

Abuse and neglect can leave several physical signs on the victim’s body, indicating mistreatment. When visiting your family member in a nursing home, look for the following markers of elder abuse:

  • Unexplained injuries. These may appear as unexplained bruises, broken bones, or burns that don’t match the provided account. These signs could point to episodes of physical harm, accidental falls, or neglect.
  • Signs of malnutrition or dehydration. Weight loss, frailty, dry skin, or cognitive issues may suggest that your loved one isn’t receiving the required nutrition or hydration, often due to neglect or intentional withholding.
  • Bedsores or pressure ulcers. Pressure ulcers are skin wounds that can become life-threatening, often resulting from prolonged immobility. They may suggest neglect, especially if your family member is bedridden or wheelchair-bound and is not being moved or turned.

Identifying Emotional and Psychological Signs

Not all signs of elder abuse are physically evident; emotional and psychological impacts can be just as revealing and harmful. Watch for the following shifts in mood or behavior that might suggest maltreatment or neglect:

  • Changes in behavior. A noticeable change, whether abrupt or progressive, in typical behavior or mood, like avoiding social engagements, can signal emotional abuse or neglect.
  • Emotional distress. Visible signs of distress like frequent crying, mood swings, or uncharacteristic bouts of anger might indicate underlying abuse or maltreatment.
  • Fear and anxiety around certain individuals. When your loved one seems apprehensive, nervous, or agitated in the presence of certain caregivers, it might indicate mistreatment from those people.
  • Regression or childlike behavior. Reverting to earlier behaviors, like thumb-sucking or rocking, can indicate trauma or psychological abuse.
  • Avoidance of eye contact or appearing withdrawn. These signs can result from a deep sense of shame, fear, or humiliation due to consistent emotional torment.

Legal Obligations for Nursing Home Facilities

In California, nursing homes are legally obligated to provide residents with a secure and nurturing environment. Failure to uphold these duties can result in severe legal consequences for the facility.

If you suspect abuse or neglect, you can take action on behalf of your loved one. First, report your concern to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). You can file online or by phone, mail, or fax. 

Adhere to the guidelines the CDPH sets when filing your report, ensuring you detail all relevant information about the incident or sustained neglect. Once reported, an investigation usually ensues. If your claims are substantiated, the care facility may be subjected to fines, penalties, or even closure.

Additionally, partnering with an attorney specializing in nursing home abuse can assist in navigating the CDPH claim process or initiating a personal injury lawsuit against those accountable. Taking this route can help secure compensation for your loved one, covering medical expenses and intangible damages such as emotional trauma and pain.

Protect Your Elderly Loved One in a California Nursing Home

Elder abuse demands prompt attention and intervention. If you observe indications of mistreatment or neglect concerning your loved one, consult the seasoned attorneys at Berg Injury Lawyers.

We are dedicated to safeguarding the well-being of our elderly community and ensuring that negligent nursing home personnel, administrators, and healthcare professionals are held accountable for their actions.

Let us help you advocate for your loved one’s welfare and legal rights. Contact us today to schedule a free, confidential case review.