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Families should be alert for signs of nursing home negligence

If you have a disabled or elderly family member who is a resident in a Pittsburgh-area nursing home, you are their best line of defense regarding incidents of negligence and abuse. A loved one's age, infirmities and declining cognitive functions can render them unable to protest against or report any indignities they may have suffered in the facility. Essentially, this makes them the perfect victims for abuse and negligence.

Negligence versus abuse

Abuse in nursing homes can take the form of verbal, physical, sexual or financial. Negligence is actually a form of abuse, and it can be more insidious and harder to prove. Any time a nursing home resident doesn't get the care that is needed according to his or her medical condition, neglect occurs. Common incidents where negligence plays a role may involve infrequent toileting assistance, lack of good hygiene, restricting or failing to assist with mobility or eating.

Beware of these red flags

· Unsanitary living conditions. Your loved one should have fresh bedding that's changed regularly and after accidents, and access to a clean bathroom. Food should be prepared in a sanitary kitchen area.

· Poor patient hygiene. Residents should have clipped nails, clean and brushed hair, assistance with dressing, proper dental care and regular baths. While a toileting accident can occur at any time, if the residents or facility smells like feces or urine frequently, there's a problem.

· Malnutrition or dehydration. Residents should be given enough time to eat and receive assistance with feeding if necessary. They should have access to clean drinking water at all times unless their conditions call for fluid restrictions.

· Unexplained injuries. Head injuries, bruises, bedsores and fractures can indicate both neglect and abuse. If residents don't receive assistance when they need help walking or toileting, they can harm themselves trying to do it on their own. Leaving residents lying too long in one position can create bedsores that can wind up being fatal.

· Loss of mobility. Nursing home staff members should engage residents in range of motion exercises to help avoid contractures and spasms. Exercise and walking programs can improve circulation, strengthen muscle tone and help the residents maintain balance.

· Psychological issues. Residents who suddenly appear fearful, depressed or unwilling to speak freely with loved ones may be being bullied and abused whe n no one is there to prevent it.

Seek assistance from an ombudsman or attorney

If you suspect that negligence and abuse are contributing to a nursing home resident's deteriorating physical or mental health, take steps to prevent it. You can be your loved one's best advocate when you take action on his or her behalf.

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