Nursing home abuse is a rampant issue across the country. In fact, 1 in 10 elders over the age of 60 have experienced abuse in the U.S., but only 1 in 14 incidents of abuse ever get formally reported.

Because of the physical and mental limitations that come with age or worsening health conditions, seniors are especially defenseless to harmful or neglectful situations. Sadly, too often, it falls on the victim’s loved ones to discover and report dangerous mistreatment.

If you have a loved one in an assisted care facility, it’s critical that you recognize the red flags that could indicate abuse or neglect. Elder abuse can come in many different forms, and unfortunately, the signs aren’t always obvious. However, regardless of the type of abuse, there are specific patterns you can look for if you suspect an elder is unsafe.

Signs of physical abuse

Physical abuse often leaves tangible evidence you can see or feel on a body. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), physical abuse is the use of physical force that may result in bodily injury, physical pain or impairment.

Due to their frailty, nursing home staff could blame suspicious injuries on an elder on a fall or accident. Be sure to ask the medical staff about any unexplained injuries and keep an eye out for the following signs of physical abuse:

  • Fractured or broken bones
  • Bruises or scrapes
  • Physical signs of punishment or restraint
  • Sprains, dislocations or internal injuries
  • Inappropriate force-feeding
  • Sudden changes in behavior

Signs of emotional abuse

Unlike physical abuse, the signs of mental abuse are much harder to identify. Oftentimes, the elder themselves may not even be aware abuse is taking place. The NCEA defines emotional or psychological abuse as the infliction of anguish, pain or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts.

Emotional abuse may include things like threats, insults and humiliation – or even subjecting an elder to social isolation. While much more challenging to prove, symptoms of emotional abuse taking place can include:

  • Becoming easily upset or agitated
  • Becoming extremely withdrawn or nonresponsive
  • Repetitive behaviors such as rocking, sucking or biting
  • Acting fearful of being alone

Too often, the abuse and neglect in nursing homes go unseen and unreported. Knowing the warning signs and patterns of abuse can help you protect your loved one in a care facility.