What is Nursing Home Neglect?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Nursing home neglect is a form of abuse by omitting or neglecting to give proper care. As the term implies, this form of neglect takes place in a nursing home, of any size. Though it most often affects older people in the community, it can occur in any nursing home with patients young or old. This neglect is not simply “forgetting” to take care of people, but instead is a criminal act as defined by the US government.

An elderly lady in a nursing home.
An elderly lady in a nursing home.

Despite its criminality, nursing home neglect continues to occur regularly, and alarming statistics exist concerning it. These include the 14,000 deaths occurring in a 3-year span in the early 2000s that the Centers For Disease Control determined as due to neglect. Presently, though there is always hope for improvement in this area, about 5% of nursing home patients are criminally neglected, which to many remains a deeply alarming figure, especially in a country that has the best possible medical care to offer many of its citizens.

Failing to properly wash hands could be considered patient neglect.
Failing to properly wash hands could be considered patient neglect.

Some types of nursing home neglect that occur include moving, lifting or poorly positioning patients in a way that causes pain or injury to limbs or injury to the skin (particularly bed sores). Another common problem is failing to respond to their requests for help, either because of poor staffing or to try to control the behavior of patients. Alternately, some people are not given adequate food or liquid, or aren’t given the help they need to eat and drink so they get proper nutrition. Those who require help with toileting or with diaper changing may not be given enough opportunities to use the bathroom, or they may be left to sit in soiled diapers while no one changes them.

Other forms of nursing home neglect include failure to provide bathing at regular intervals. In addition, those residents who still have mobility but need assistance might not get it, which decreases their mobility. Nursing homes are usually supposed to provide activities too, but if no one helps a patient participate, they’re unlikely to get the benefit of this. Lastly, failing to employ proper handwashing techniques is a form of neglect because it can easily spread bacterial and viral contagion from one patient to another.

There are number of reasons why neglect may occur. Often, it comes from poor staffing at nursing homes with a patient to nurse ratio that is too high. When many patients are already being routinely neglected, the example set for new workers is an extremely poor one, and may be most influential on those entering the health care field.

Cost plays a role since a number of nursing homes operate on small budgets. Family members have to own their share in this too because they are the best point of resistance to neglect. They can, through vigilance, discover whether loved ones are receiving appropriate care. Regular visits really help.

When people believe that a loved one is suffering from nursing home neglect, they should report it right away. The report should minimally inform the supervising nurse at the home and the state long-term care ombudsman. It may be necessary to also contact the local police, or the agency that credentials the nursing home. An option is to move the person to another home, but it is possible that reporting the matter will make a difference. However, if the neglect appears to be systemic, families should consider the possibility of finding a different nursing home for their loved one.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


They obviously had no interest in working with older people, or doing the work their jobs required.


@Grivusangel: Unfortunately, so true. My sister was an activity director at a nursing home and wondered how in the world some of the staff people were hired to start with, since they obviously had no interest in working with older people, or doing the work their jobs required.

Usually, you can walk into a nursing home and tell whether it's well staffed or not. A good one won't have that "smell." A bad one will.


One big reason for nursing home neglect is a poorly trained, poorly paid staff. When people have only minimal training as nurse's aides, they may not know how to move a resident safely, for example, and with routinely poor pay, many have little incentive to give excellent care. Or, they have just enough training to minimally qualify them to work at a nursing home, and not enough to teach them any professionalism, and the nursing home is so desperate for help, they don't screen their employees well enough.

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