How to Differentiate Between Normal Signs of Aging and Signs of Nursing Home Neglect in Illinois

Posted on January 08, 2024

Having a loved one in an Illinois nursing home can be anxiety-racking. Not knowing if your loved one is safe can leave you filled with worry. It’s important to be able to differentiate between normal signs of aging and the signs of nursing home neglect so you can take action if abuse is occurring.

Senior man covering his face with his hands.

Understanding the Normal Signs of Aging

Normal signs of aging include memory loss, confusion, and an inability to take care of personal hygiene. Other symptoms include getting sick more frequently, irritability and personality changes, and loss of eyesight or other physical capabilities.

What Are the Physical Changes Associated With Aging?

Physical changes associated with aging may be immediately noticeable. Outwardly noticeable changes include:

  • Graying and thinning of hair
  • Loss of eyesight
  • Sagging skin, wrinkles, and dark spots
  • Loss of teeth
  • Bad posture and height shrinking
  • Urinary incontinence

However, some physical changes may not be immediately noticeable. A rise in blood pressure, decreased cardiac output, and pressure ulcers may require a diagnosis from a medical professional.

Cognitive Changes Associated With Aging

In addition to physical decline, seniors often experience cognitive decline.

A loss of memory is common, and many elderly individuals find it difficult to complete their daily chores. Seniors living alone may fail to clean the house, wash their clothes, bathe regularly, or even flush the toilet. Leaving the lights on is also common, as is eating old and expired food.

Your loved one may find it challenging to remember words or recall events, dates, and names. He or she may experience a slowdown in completing simple tasks, or may find it difficult to sustain attention.

Personality and mood changes are also commonplace. Your loved one may seem bitter or paranoid for no reason. Many adults experience sadness, depression, or other extreme emotions. Many seniors experience apathy or a complete lack of interest in everyday activities, including things they used to enjoy.

What Are Some Common Signs of Nursing Home Neglect?

According to the World Health Organization, two out of three staff members in nursing homes and other institutional facilities reported committing elder abuse. Common signs of nursing home neglect include fear, a sudden unwillingness or inability to communicate, anxiety, lack of hygiene, malnourishment, self-isolation, and withdrawal. Signs of physical or medical abuse may also include bruises, marks, bleeding, or a deterioration of medical symptoms.

Physical Neglect

Physical neglect, unfortunately, is common. Outright abuse may include hitting, slapping, punching, pinching, or throwing a senior off his or her bed or wheelchair. It may also include sexual abuse.

Signs of such abuse may include marks, bruises, cuts, broken bones, and other unexplained injuries. Signs of sexual abuse may include bleeding or bruising in the genital area or a sudden diagnosis of STDs.

Neglect is harder to spot. It might not involve outright violence, but it’s abuse nonetheless. It may involve caretakers failing to administer personal hygiene (helping a senior shower and use the bathroom, for example) or not bringing food and drink to disabled seniors.

A lack of personal hygiene when living alone is common. However, in a nursing home setting, staff members are supposed to ensure residents are properly caring for themselves or, if unable to, receiving care from trained professionals.

Signs may include malnourishment, sudden weight loss, and dehydration. A lack of personal hygiene, such as unclean clothes, unchanged bedding (even after wetting the bed), or overgrown nails, may also indicate neglect.

Neglect can be intentional or unintentional.

Intentional neglect may come from a place of cruelty or as a “punishment” from unprofessional staff. Refusing to help a resident stand up after falling, get up from the bed, get out of the bath, or care for themselves (such as refusing to take them to the bathroom upon request) is intentional neglect.

Many times, though, the neglect is unintentional. It may result from:

  • Inadequate staffing and overpopulation in the nursing home
  • Improperly trained staff members
  • Inadequate supplies
  • Insufficient communication between staff members

While neglect may be unintentional on the part of a specific staff member, it is still negligence. The nursing home is responsible for ensuring there are enough supplies, equipment, and medication for all residents. Some institutions, driven by profit and greed, cut down on staff or accept too many residents.

The facility is also responsible for ensuring that all staff members are properly trained for situations that may arise and that there are enough staff members to care for every patient.

Medical Neglect

Medical neglect involves a failure to administer medication and treatment, including preventative treatment.

Seniors often require multiple medications a day. Failure to take such medications could result in an exacerbation of existing conditions, such as increased blood pressure. Illnesses getting worse is a common sign of medical neglect.

Preventative treatment may include helping bedridden seniors move around enough to prevent bed sores. Neglecting to do so may be considered medical neglect.

Medical neglect can also take the form of dangerous medications doctors still prescribe. Attending physicians may prescribe these medications, despite having full awareness of their side effects and the harm they may cause.

How Can You Report Suspected Nursing Home Neglect in Illinois?

It can be heartbreaking to suspect that your loved one is experiencing mistreatment. However, any suspected case of nursing home neglect or abuse should be reported immediately. If you wait longer and the perpetrators go unpunished, the abuse often escalates.

Illinois Department of Public Health

To file a complaint regarding suspected nursing home abuse, call the Department of Public Health’s Nursing Home Complaint Hotline.

You should be ready to provide information about the abused individual and the suspected abuser, including their names, sex, age, and relationship. You should also provide the reason you suspect your loved one has been abused. If you don’t have all these details, don’t worry; simply provide them to the best of your ability.

Anyone who reports abuse in good faith is immune from professional disciplinary action or liability. Also, his or her identity will be kept private unless there is a court order to the contrary, as per the Illinois Adult Protective Services Act.

After a complaint is filed, a trained and certified professional from the Illinois Adult Protective Services (APS) agency will investigate. This usually takes between 24 hours and seven days, depending on the type of abuse and the severity of the situation.

APS will contact the victim. If the victim is not suffering from dementia and is fully competent, he or she has the right to decline services.

Filing a report is critical and an important aspect in the prevention of nursing home abuse. When cases are reported and perpetrators punished, other caregivers may think twice before committing elder abuse.

When Should You Contact an Attorney Specializing in Nursing Home Neglect Cases?

You should contact an attorney to handle your nursing home neglect case immediately after filing a report with the Illinois Department of Health.

An attorney can help you document evidence of the abuse against the caregiver and nursing home and protect your rights to compensation. Whether a caregiver was intentionally abusing or neglecting your loved one or the facility was negligent in not hiring enough staff or hiring unqualified staff, compensation may be available.

Evidence of physical abuse may be easy to spot. However, evidence of mental abuse, including verbal abuse, intentional social isolation, constant humiliation, or threats of violence or the withholding of treatment may be more difficult to document. An attorney can assist you nonetheless by contacting professionals who can testify to the resulting emotional symptoms.

A personal injury lawyer can also help with nursing home injuries caused by abuse, neglect, or punishment.

Wrongful Death and Survival Actions

In some cases, medical neglect, abuse, or maltreatment could lead to a wrongful death. In such cases, it is important to know the difference between a wrongful death lawsuit and a survival action.

A survival action is a lawsuit filing for damages that the deceased could have filed for if he or she were alive. A wrongful death lawsuit files for damages that the family or relatives of the deceased suffered as a result of the wrongful and untimely death of their loved one.

Since a survival action is filed on behalf of the deceased, the awarded compensation goes to his or her estate. On the other hand, since the family members who file a wrongful death lawsuit are filing it on behalf of themselves, the damages go to them directly.

An attorney can help you decide whether you qualify to file a survival action or wrongful death lawsuit, and which one to choose. You may also decide to file both a survival action and a wrongful death lawsuit at the same time. It’s best not to delay in contacting an attorney, as there is a statute of limitations for such cases.