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Recognizing the Signs of Physical Abuse

Physical abuse of elderly patients can significantly harm their health and decrease their lifespan. Elderly patients do not heal as quickly due to age and diminished immune system responses. Thus, it is crucial for family members and loved ones to recognize the signs of physical abuse and differentiate these from wounds that may be caused by accidents and treatment.

Normal Wounds vs. Wounds from Abuse

Minor skin tears and irritation caused by the application of blood pressure cuffs or slight bruising from the insertion of needles are not signs of abuse. These wounds are normal in the routine of caring for elderly patients. However, severe skin tears, prolonged skin irritation that won’t heal, and extensive bruising can indicate abuse. Frequently, these types of wounds are caused by the misuse of restraint systems. Another common issue to be aware of are pressure ulcers that result from improper treatment and physical therapy. While small ulcers can be expected large ulcers that have become infected are most certainly a sign of elder abuse.


Family members and caregivers should pay close attention to the severity of the burn and the shape of the burn. This can help determine whether the burn was caused by an accident, such as spilled cup of coffee or contact with scaling water from a tap, or a malicious act such as putting a cigarette out on the skin.

Broken Bones & Fractures

Broken bones and fractures should be carefully examined by medical personnel. This can help determine whether the break or fracture aligns with the patient’s story of how the break or fracture occurred. Often, abuse is discovered because the way the bone breaks and complexity of the wounds doesn’t match the types of wounds one would expect to see in a slip and fall, etc.

Bites and Scratches

While scratching can indicate itchy skin, extensive scratching and bites are almost exclusively signs of violent struggle. These wounds should be carefully investigated and treated to prevent the spread of bacterial and viral infections. This is critical as infection can not exacerbate the severity of the wound, it can negatively impact the patient’s prognosis for recovery.

A nursing home abuse lawyer should be contacted as soon as family members or caregivers suspect abuse is present. The sooner action is taken, the sooner the patient can be removed from the situation and protected. As awareness of elder abuse grows, more and more people are taking proactive steps to protect their loved ones.

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