July 7, 2006

Retirement Supplement

Regular visits a good way to gauge nursing home care

By Mary Ann Wyand

How can you tell when all is not well in the life of a nursing home resident?

Perhaps you are visiting an elderly relative or friend or volunteering as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion to bring the Eucharist to a Catholic patient at a nursing home.

The senior citizen has an illness or injury that necessitates admission to the skilled-care facility so it may be difficult to determine if the patient’s health is declining due to clinical reasons or inadequate medical care.

Elder care advocates explain that sometimes an elderly patient will not complain about substandard living conditions or inferior care due to fear or confusion.

Two Web sites that help people recognize nursing home abuses offer important advice for relatives and other visitors.

The Center for Nursing Home Abuse and the Indiana Nursing Home Abuse Resource Center sites explain nursing home patient rights, and urge visitors to use common sense and their senses to determine if an elderly person is being mistreated or isn’t receiving adequate care.

“Reports show that the number of nursing home negligence cases is increasing,” the Center for Nursing Home Abuse Web site explains. “Nursing home abuse can be physical, emotional or simply neglect.”

To determine if the patient is receiving adequate nutrition and hydration, the Web sites advise visitors to check the person’s lips and skin for signs of dryness and cracking and to note whether the patient has lost weight.

Is a fresh glass of water near the person’s bed? Is the patient able to reach the glass for a drink? Is a straw provided for easier use? Does the person need help holding a cup or eating?

To decide if the person is being cared for properly, the Web sites also suggest that visitors look at the condition of the patient’s skin and hair.

Is the senior citizen clean and dressed in fresh clothing? Is the person’s hair washed and combed? Or is there an odor in the room indicating that the person needs to be bathed or the bed linens need to be changed?

Bedsores have an odor caused by the infection, but usually are located on the back of the person’s body or legs and are not visible due to clothing or bedding.

If there are any general concerns, the center urges visitors to look for warning signs that include:

• Physical symptoms, such as “open wounds, cuts, bruises, welts, bedsores, skin discoloration or deterioration,” indicate that the patient needs immediate medical care. Also check to see if the person shows signs of dehydration, malnutrition, weight loss or burns.

• Emotional concerns, such as “agitation, combative behavior, withdrawal, depression, confusion, dementia and complaints,” are also reasons to check on the quality of the patient’s care.

• Signs of neglect, evident by “poor personal hygiene, withholding medication, overmedication, incorrect body positions and lack of assistance with eating, drinking and walking,” also require immediate attention. Fecal or urine odors are easy-to-notice clues that the person needs better care.

Surprisingly, the Center for Nursing Home Abuse site explains, “These and many other warning signs often go unnoticed by family members.”

Visitors should never ignore their suspicions about inadequate care, the centers emphasize, because “even the smallest change [in a patient’s appearance or behavior] can be an indication of a much more serious problem.”

Relatives and visitors shouldn’t be afraid to ask the nursing home staff any questions about the patient’s care, the center notes. “Make sure your loved ones are getting the care they deserve.”

If you suspect a patient has been neglected or abused, the Indiana Nursing Home Abuse Resource Center Web site recommends that you notify the person’s physician then talk with the administrator of the facility and the director of nurses about any concerns.

Whether the abuse victim is still a patient at the nursing home or is receiving medical care at another facility, you can contact the Indiana State Department of Health for assistance or to request an investigation.

In 1987, Congress enacted nursing home reform legislation that stipulates certain requirements for quality of care to protect the rights of patients.

Frequent visits are one of the best ways to make sure that your elderly relative or friend is receiving the best possible care in a nursing home, according to the centers’ Web sites. Regular visits also are the best way to ensure that your relative or friend knows that he or she is loved.

(For more information about how to monitor nursing home care, log on to the Indiana Nursing Home Abuse Resource Center Web site at www.nursinghomepatientrights.com or the Center for Nursing Home Abuse Web site at www.nursingabuselaw.com.)


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