Approximately four million elderly Americans are victims of abuse every year. Many of the victims are patients that are housed in nursing homes and are dependent on others for daily care. Among the most common types of physical abuse in nursing homes is the use of unnecessary force when caring for patients.
Causes of Unnecessary Force
Many elderly patients are physically incapacitated to some degree. This can make daily tasks difficult or even impossible. Caregivers or family members may become frustrated when waiting for the patient to perform a task such as getting dressed or eating. Many instances in which unnecessary force has been used stem from this frustration, as the caregiver or family member attempts to rush the patient through a task.
Unnecessary force may be used when lifting patients. Caregivers or family members may move the patient too quickly, squeeze or pinch while picking the patient up, and drop or throw when putting the patient down. Patients that have been incapacitated for long periods of time may experience a state of muscle atrophy that makes this use of unnecessary force particularly dangerous.
Patients that are capable of mobility may also become victims of unnecessary force. When moving from room to room, caregivers may attempt to hurry the patients along. Patients may not be able to retain balance, and may fall or sustain injuries from the rough handling.
In some cases, patients may be confined to beds or chairs when it is not necessary. Patients that have been restrained in this way may become agitated and attempt to escape restraints. Struggling against restraints can cause burns, lacerations, and many other types of injuries. Being restrained improperly can also affect the patient psychologically.
The most common types of unnecessary force that occur in nursing homes include:
- Pushing to hurry
- Grabbing to hurry
- Throwing incapacitated patients
- Force feeding
- Pinching while moving patients
- Rough handling while assisting with tasks
- Improper restraint
Injuries from Unnecessary Force
Patients that have been victims of unnecessary force may sustain injuries. These injuries may go unreported because of the caregiver’s fear of being reprimanded for the injury. This can worsen injuries and make it difficult for the patient to receive proper treatment.
Types of injuries that may be sustained from the use of unnecessary force include:
- Broken bones
- Internal bleeding
- Injuries to organs
- Injuries to airways from force feeding
- Digestive issues from force feeding
- Head, neck, or spine injuries from falls
- Circulation complications from squeezing or pinching
- Burns on skin from fighting unnecessary restraints
Contributing Factors for Abuse
Use of unnecessary force is much more likely in situations where the patient and abuser are alone. As with any type of abuse, drug abuse and depression may alter the mental state of the caregiver or family member and make unnecessary force incidents more likely. Time constraints and staffing issues may also put pressure on caregivers to rush patients through tasks.
Preventing Unnecessary Force Incidents
Unnecessary force incidents can be prevented by nursing home owners, staff members, and family members of patients. Proper staffing will decrease the pressure on staff member to hurry patients, thereby decreasing the incidence of injuries through hurried movements. Monitoring of caregivers and family members during interactions with the patient can also lower the incidence of unnecessary force incidents.
Indications of Unnecessary Force
Caregivers and family members should be alert for signs of unnecessary force incidents. Patients should be frequently checked for bruises and other injuries, and should be interviewed regularly about daily events. Patients that have been victims of unnecessary force may also develop psychological issues that may signify abuse.
Unnecessary Force Response
If it is discovered that a patient has been the victim of unnecessary force, the patient should be removed from the situation immediately. If injuries are present, the injuries should be documented and treated as soon as possible. Family members of the victim should contact an attorney to discuss legal options that will hold the nursing home responsible for the abuses.
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“Elder Abuse: Prevention Strategies.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Jan 2014. Web. 14 Feb 2014. <http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/elderabuse/prevention.html>.
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