Physical Abuse

When a nursing home resident suffers physical pain, injury or impairment due to maltreatment or neglect, it is an example of physical abuse. Physical abuse is one of the most common types of abuse that occurs in nursing homes. Compared to financial and other forms of abuse, physical abuse is very dangerous because it can cause long lasting and life threatening injuries.

  • 3 million people live in nursing homes in America
  • One out of three residents report that they have been abused
  • 95% of residents report that they have seen other residents abused
  • Abused senior citizens have a 300% higher risk of death

Abusers in Nursing Homes

  • Nursing home caregivers
  • Visiting family members
  • Other residents

Nursing Home Caregivers: Most physical abuse in nursing homes is caused by caregivers who mistreat or neglect patients. Some physical abuse is committed intentionally out of frustration. However, most physical abuse happens because nursing homes are usually understaffed and the staff that they have lack sufficient training. Although the abuse and neglect is sometimes unintentional, the effects of that abuse are just as serious and deadly as intentional abuse.

Visiting Family Members: Sometimes visiting family members are actually the ones who cause physical abuse. This is a difficult situation to resolve for caregivers, but they have always put the interests of the patient first and do what they can to keep the patient safe. Sometimes family members are more likely to commit elder abuse if the patient has a history of abusing his family.

Other Residents: Physical abuse caused by other nursing home residents is a very big problem in nursing homes across the country. This abuse often happens when staff members and families are not around, so it is usually not reported. Some studies have shown that 20% of nursing home residents suffer abuse by their fellow residents.

Types of Physical Abuse

  • Active abuse
  • Misuse of restraints
  • Physical neglect

Active Abuse: This type of abuse is the easiest to observe. Some examples of active physical abuse include pushing, slapping, punching, pinching, and kicking. An act of active abuse is intentional and meant to cause pain or injury.

Misuse of Restraints: Although misusing restraints is against federal nursing home regulations, it is still a common type of abuse in American nursing homes. Restraints are only supposed to be used for medical reasons, and there should only be used for a short and definite period. When restraints are used for discipline or convenience they become dangerous to the patient. Patients trying to get out of constraints can cause injuries to their wrists and legs as well as serious injuries to the rest of the body if they fall. Using restraints for long periods of time can cause patients to suffer from lower muscle tone, reduced bone mass, and muscle disorders.

Physical Neglect: This type of abuse is usually not intentional, but is instead caused by the understaffing and lack of resources at a nursing home.  Examples of physical neglect include not providing the necessary food, clothing, and sanitary environment that a patient needs to survive and maintain their dignity.

Warning Signs of Physical Abuse

Unlike emotional abuse or financial abuse, physical abuse can be easier to spot. If you suspect that a patient is being abused, there are some things you should watch for because they might suggest that abuse is happening.

  • Medical staff refuses to leave patient alone with family
  • Unexplained injuries and recurring injuries
  • Physical signs of restraint such as bruises and abrasions
  • Malnutrition, dehydration, and sudden weight loss

If you believe that a loved one is suffering from physical abuse in a nursing home, you should immediately talk with the staff and investigate. If you are not satisfied with their answers, you should remove the patient from the facility and report the home to the authorities.


Elder Abuse Facts. Alexandria: Assisted Living Federation of America, Print.

“Physical Abuse.” National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2013.

Robinson, Lawrence, Tina De Benedictius, and Jeanne Segal. “Elder Abuse and Neglect.” Help Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2013.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Elder Maltreatment: Definition. 2010. Print.

“What is Elder Abuse?.” Administration on Aging. N.p., 01 Apr 2013. Web. 18 May 2013.