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Signs of Nursing Home Neglect

Posted By Emily Ghant (Johnson), Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, May 12, 2015


 Is Your Loved One At Risk?

        One of the most frequent questions I am asked about loved ones in nursing homes is how you determine if someone is being neglected. My experience with neglect in nursing homes is informed by both my legal practice and my work in nursing homes as a certified nursing assistant for over eight years. I have seen firsthand the day to day activities, care, and treatment of nursing home residents.  I have witnessed some of the best nursing care and some of the worst.

The four main concerns that people generally have about their family members living in nursing homes relates to bruising, wet diapers, weight loss, and bed sores. Based on my experiences in the trenches and as an attorney I typically tell people the following:


It happens. The elderly are much more prone to bruising than other demographics. This is especially true if they are taking a blood thinning medication like Coumadin. Many times staff members can cause bruising by simply helping a resident get out of bed or take a shower. It is not a definitive sign of neglect. This does not mean that bruising should go unquestioned. For example, bruising around the face could indicate a fall. If your loved one has bruising speak with the charge nurse to determine what happened.

Wet Diapers

Many elderly living in nursing homes are incontinent (unable to hold in urine or waste).  The protection they wear is simply an adult version of infant diapers. These diapers are absorbent and designed to wick fluids away from the skin and keep the wearer dry until changing. It would be mathematically and physical impossible for the nursing staff to immediately change every wet diaper in the nursing home. However, there are some signs to look for regarding hygiene neglect. Is the front of the diaper yellow? Is the bed underneath the resident wet?  Either of these could mean that it has been hours since the resident soiled themselves.  If you discover one or both of these conditions you need to speak with the charge nurse immediately and voice your concerns.

Weight Loss

Many families are rightly concerned with the loss in weight they observe in their loved ones. However, like bruising, losing weight is commonplace even absent negligence. Weight loss can possibly be tied in with trouble swallowing food. If the resident has trouble swallowing they may be put on a diet that involves food thickeners. It may also be caused by depression or medication. Even when the staff does everything they can to get someone to eat and drink you have to remember that these are human beings and have the privilege and ability of refusing. Nevertheless, there may be grounds for negligence if the nursing home failed to follow dietary guidelines or report weight loss to the doctor.  

Bed Sores

I have saved this one for last because it is a red flag.  Nursing homes typically place bed bound residents on a strict turning schedule to prevent decubitus ulcers.  These types of ulcers are commonly caused by the prolonged exposure of an area of the body to one spot on the bed.  The pressure on that body part will cause the skin to breakdown. What will begin as a painful, red area, can quickly turn into a gaping wound capable of severe infection.  The nursing staff should be on high alert anytime they notice a pressure wound forming. There is no excuse for a pressure wound to spiral out of control.  If the sore is bad enough it could be a clear indication that the nursing home staff has routinely failed to ensure proper turning.  If you see this you need to speak with the charge nurse and call an attorney to help you investigate the matter.

Be vigilant

The best practice is to visit your loved one often. Let the staff know that you are interested in your family member’s care and want notifications of all accidents and problems. Most of the nursing staff are considerate loving people who want to make life for the residents as comfortable as possible.


            This list is provided by Attorney Will Smith, partner at Schenk Smith LLC, to give guidance in placing a loved one in a nursing home. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney client relationship. If you or a loved one believe you have been injured by a nursing home please contact the Atlanta Bar Lawyer Referral & Information Service at 404-521-0777

Tags:  Abuse  Atlanta Bar Association Elder Law Section  Attorney  bed sores  bruising  Law  Neglect  Nursing Homes  wet diapers 

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