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What is the difference between nursing home abuse and neglect?

Both abuse and neglect can cause significant harm to a vulnerable senior citizen if not reported. The laws of some jurisdictions regard neglect as a form of elder abuse. However, the laws of Florida regard neglect and abuse separately.

Elder abuse is an intentional or knowing act to cause harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. Neglect is disregard for others’ needs, carelessness or inadequate attention that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, results in an individual’s mistreatment.

Warning signs of elder abuse

According to a government program called Administration for Community Living, elder abuse can be physical, emotional or sexual in nature. Sometimes it causes injuries such as unexplained broken bones or other observable marks such as abrasions, burns or bruises. Even if there are no physical signs, which is often the case with emotional abuse, there may be observable changes in behavior, with the individual becoming more depressed or withdrawn. Conversely, the individual may become hyperalert and guarded.

Forms of elder neglect

There are several forms of elder neglect that can take place in a nursing home. According to the National Adult Protective Services Association, physical neglect involves failing to take care of residents’ dietary, medical or hygienic needs. Signs of physical neglect include excessive weight loss, poor hygiene or unattended medical needs, such as bedsores. Emotional neglect involves discounting emotional wellbeing by isolating an individual from others or infantilizing or belittling his or her expressed needs. As with emotional abuse, emotional neglect may not leave physical signs but can result in observable changes in behavior.

People who observe signs of possible elder abuse or neglect have a responsibility to report it. If the individual is in immediate danger, this involves calling 911 for emergency services.


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