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If you have an elderly parent, grandparent or other loved one in a nursing home, you would likely be shocked and worried to see them covered in bruises. Bruising in elderly nursing home patients can definitely be a sign of abuse or neglect.

But such is not always the case, fortunately. Medications that many senior citizens take, e.g., blood thinners, make them especially vulnerable to bruising. Also, as we age, our skin becomes thinner and loses collagen, the substance that helps it recover quickly from superficial injuries. Thus, skin tears and the accompanying bruising can be quite common.

So, how can you differentiate bruising from abuse and bruising due to aging or medications? One of the best ways is to simply ask your loved one what happened when the two of you are alone together. Even patients suffering from dementia can have lucid intervals where they are able to convey basic information succinctly. Then, confirm what they told you by asking the nursing supervisor the same question. If their stories dovetail, it’s likely what happened.

For residents who were being abused, the following are common:

  • Bruises tend to be larger, around 2” in diameter — or larger
  • More bruises from abuse are located on the trunk, head and neck
  • They are often in a fingerprint or handprint pattern

There is no substitute for vigilance when it comes to elderly patients in nursing homes, however. Visiting often at different times of the day or evening and helping your loved one dress and undress gives you the opportunity to observe any bruising or marks that might be suspicious.

Should you suspect abuse led to your loved one’s injuries or death, you may need to take legal action. An experienced advocate can tell you more about the process.