Residents of nursing homes are not always able to report elder abuse to those who can help. Therefore, people close to the resident, especially family members and friends, have a responsibility to pay attention to signs of possible abuse and take appropriate action.
Signs of elder abuse can be either physical or behavioral. Behavioral signs may show up earlier than physical signs, but physical signs are often more recognizable. Loved ones should pay close attention to both to get help for the resident as quickly as possible.
Physical signs of elder abuse are more concrete than behavioral signs. For this reason, they may be easier to identify. The National Center on Elder Abuse identifies broken bones, cuts, welts, burns, sores or bruises as physical warning signs of abuse. These are especially worrisome if the injuries are serious in nature and nursing home personnel are unable to provide a satisfactory explanation for them. It is also a red flag if injuries such as bruises appear in a cluster pattern.
Behavioral signs of elder abuse are less concrete than physical signs. According to the American Society on Aging, they sometimes resemble symptoms of mental health problems or dementia. For these reasons, people sometimes ignore or dismiss them, but any unusual behavioral changes warrant further investigation to determine whether abuse may be the cause.
Nursing home residents who have experienced abuse may display submissive or fearful behavior. For example, they may cringe away from physical contact, startle easily or refuse to meet the gaze of others. Irritability or anger without an apparent cause can be a behavioral sign of abuse. The resident may become withdrawn, depressed or apathetic. Conversely, he or she may become anxious or agitated. It is a red flag if symptoms such as these increase in the presence of a certain individual, who may be an abuser.