If you are one of the many Pennsylvanians who has had to make the difficult decision to place your parent in a nursing home, it undoubtedly was one of the hardest choices you ever had to make. Even though you know that your parent needs the daily care that nursing homes provide, still (s)he is always on your mind, and you worry about his or her health, safety and welfare.

Given the horror stories about nursing home abuse and neglect that keep appearing in the news, it is no wonder that you worry. Despite federal and state laws protecting nursing home residents, millions of older people receive substandard care. While you cannot be there at all times to watch over your parent and make sure (s)he is getting needed and deserved care, here are some things to watch out for when you visit:

Personal care red flags

Falls are one of the most prevalent problems in nursing homes. Nearly 1,800 nursing home residents die each year from injuries suffered in a fall. Non-fatal fall injuries often result in the following:

  • Broken bones
  • Head trauma
  • Back and neck injuries
  • Bruising
  • Fear and anxiety about falling

If your parent exhibits any of the above and/or tells you that (s)he recently tripped or slipped, this is a serious red flag that (s)he did not receive the necessary assistance when it was required. This happens frequently in nursing homes. When residents need to go to the bathroom, dining room, etc., but no one answers their call light or buzzer, they decide to get there by themselves. They may, however, be too weak or unsteady on their feet to safely get out of bed and walk that far alone, which may result in a fall.

Other signs that your parent is neglected include the following:

  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Mouth or body odor
  • Uncombed hair
  • Overgrown fingernails or toenails
  • Inappropriate or inadequate clothing

Facility red flags

Many nursing homes are inadequately staffed and/or their employees may not have received the proper training to appropriately care for elderly patients. Whenever you visit your parent, look for telltale signs of facility-wide staffing issues such as the following:

  • Rushed, “frantic” or overworked caregivers
  • Constantly ringing phones and/or call lights that stay on too long
  • Frequent turnover of personnel
  • Refusal to answer your questions and address your concerns fully and adequately
  • Complaints by your parent that (s)he does not like certain caregivers and does not want them to care for him or her

Sadly, you must remain ever-vigilant for signs of nursing home abuse and neglect each time you visit your parent. Do not be afraid to be proactive when it comes to his or her health and welfare. You are entitled to have your questions answered and your concerns addressed. You also are your parent’s advocate. Do not chalk up complaints to mere crankiness.