While it might sound unlikely, perpetrators of nursing home abuse are not always those employed as caregivers for the elderly. According to a recent article in HealthDay, many elderly residents at nursing homes suffer injuries at the hands of other patients. The article cites a recent study that determined “one in five nursing home residents had been involved in an incident with a fellow resident within the past month.” In a majority of cases, those “incidents” were only verbal altercations and did not involve physical violence. However, as the article explains, “some seniors were involved in physical scuffles, and some experienced inappropriate sexual behavior.”
It is difficult enough to feel like you have conducted sufficient background research into the caregivers at a nursing home or assisted-living facility before feeling comfortable with your elderly loved one receiving care at such a place. But how can you determine whether some instances of elder abuse actually were caused by patients living within the facility?
Elder Mistreatment Not Openly Discussed
How does elder abuse at the hands of other residents happen? One of the primary issues is that we simply do not discuss this kind of elder mistreatment enough, according to Dr. Lisa Gibbs, who is chief of geriatrics and gerontology at the University of California, Irvine. According to Gibbs, the new study presents findings that “we need to be talking about.” As she highlights, “We’ve worked on areas like reducing medical errors, and preventing falls and pressure sores . . . But we can also reduce the prevalence of this kind of mistreatment.”
Who needs to be talking about these issues more? According to Gibbs and to Dr. Laura Mosqueda, director of the National Center on Elder Abuse at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, the onus is largely on nursing homes to think more deeply about the issue of elder abuse perpetrated by residents. As Mosqueda explained, “nursing homes need to pay attention to this, and implement humane and respectful ways of dealing with it.”
Role of Nursing Homes in Limiting “Clashes” Between Residents
In short, the study suggests that we should not blame the patients themselves. Instead, as Mosqueda and Gibbs suggest, we should expect more of the facilities where these incidents are taking place. The article clarifies that many of the instances of physical abuse or mistreatment that have been identified at nursing homes involved at least one patient with dementia.
How should nursing homes handle residents that could be likely to start an altercation? Mosqueda suggests that facility should “identify residents who seem to be having issues with each other and limit their interactions.” But that is not all a nursing home should do to prevent serious injuries. A facility should also be responsible for evaluating the mental health of its residents and taking action if a patient is struggling. Additionally, staff members at nursing homes should receive special training that could allow them to recognize a potentially dangerous altercation between patients and to intervene effectively.
According to Mosqueda, a lack of intervention actually could be a sign of nursing home neglect. Indeed, the article indicates that “incidents were more common in units with relatively fewer certified nursing assistants.”
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(photo courtesy of Ainslie Joon)