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How to Advocate for Parents in <br> Nursing Homes

Learn the signs of abuse and neglect

If you’re serving as an advocate for a parent moving to a nursing home, your first responsibility arrives even before your parent relocates. It’s vital to proactively research and personally visit the facilities in your area. Once you’ve chosen your best option and your parent is settled in, be sure to get to know the staff and let them know you will be serving in the role as your parent’s advocate. However, problems can arise no matter how thoroughly your research has been.

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AARP tips how to advocate for your parents when they live in a nursing home

Photo by Beau Lark/Corbis

Know the signs of abuse and neglect before moving your parents into a long-term care facility.

What to look for:

Here’s a quick, simple checklist of major signs that could indicate your loved one is receiving poor treatment:

  • Bedsores
  • Stiffening muscles
  • Physical restraints
  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Chemical restraints (drugs)

5 steps to take if you suspect mistreatment:

Incidents of serious abuse should be reported immediately by calling a toll-free elder abuse hotline, the police or the state department of aging. However, if you’re simply trying to address quality of treatment, try these five steps.

Step 1: Speak individually with the caretaker whom you think may be involved. Be open and friendly to their perspective, rather than accusatory or angry. Keep the focus of your conversation on finding a solution together.

Step 2: Find out when the facility’s next care-planning meeting or family-council meeting is scheduled and attend to raise your concerns.

Step 3:  If your issues are not being adequately addressed, talk with a supervisor. Remember to convey specifics about any incidents, including times, dates and other pertinent information. If you are worried that making the complaint may result in retaliation against your parents, be sure to make these concerns known.

Step 4: If you’re still getting nowhere, file a written complaint with the facility. Every nursing home is required to follow a formal grievance process, so find out what time frame you should expect for a response.

Step 5: If the problem continues, consider contacting the long-term care ombudsman in your area, who can be found through your state agency on aging, the National Long Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center or other sources. You can also file a complaint with the state survey agency that licenses nursing homes, which is often overseen by the state’s department of health.

Remember your rights:

As you work to resolve treatment problems, keep in mind that the Nursing Home Resident’s Bill of Rights is codified in state and federal laws to protect seniors’ dignity and self-determination. The list guarantees:

  • The right to be fully informed of services, charges and rules.
  • The right to know the address and telephone number of the state ombudsman and state survey agency.
  • The right to receive information in a language she understands.
  • The right to present grievances without fear of reprisal.
  • The right to complain to the ombudsman or state survey agency.
  • The right to adequate care.
  • The right to refuse physical and chemical restraints.
  • The right to private communications, treatment and personal care.
  • The right to be treated with consideration, respect and dignity.
  • The right to visits by relatives, friends and physicians, and the right to refuse such visits.
  • The right to make independent choices.

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