If you’re looking for reassurance that nursing home abuse isn’t really as common as it seems, this may not be the best post to read. The unpleasant reality is that nursing home abuse is far more common than most people think — and vastly under-reported.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), one out of every five emergency room trips by nursing home residents is directly related to abuse. Worse, even though nursing homes are required by law to report incidents of abuse or potential abuse to the authorities, they often don’t.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) wants to strengthen tracking measures designed to capture incidents of abuse in neglect in nursing homes. Until that happens, however, you should be on the alert for the following signs of abuse in your loved ones:

  • Unexplained bruises
  • Dehydration
  • The use of chemical restraints
  • Wandering and elopement
  • Malnutrition
  • Sudden mental changes
  • Bed sores
  • Falls and fractures
  • Head injuries
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Cuts, welts or other wounds
  • Emotional withdrawal or agitation
  • Untreated infections
  • Complaints about missing medications
  • Sudden injuries that require hospital care

Even if your loved one has dementia, it’s wise to take any complaints about their treatment seriously — especially if there are any other indications of abuse or neglect. You have a right to be suspicious — and a right to ask questions when you are worried about the quality of care your loved one is receiving.

Abuse is the “dirty little secret” of many nursing homes. Even when a staff member is caught abusing a patient, nursing home administrators may not be eager to let family members — or the government — know. If you believe that your loved one has suffered abuse in a nursing home, it may be time to get legal representation.