Anyone with an elderly loved one in a nursing home understands what it’s like to worry. You worry about the person’s wellbeing, whether they’re eating or sleeping enough, whether they’re happy and healthy, and you worry about whether they are being properly cared for. When you turn care of a loved one over to a stranger, many worry about the possibility of abuse or neglect, oftentimes at the hands of caregivers. A recent survey indicates that there may be another cause for concern: other residents.
According to a study conducted by the head of the Center for Aging Research and Clinic Care, 20 percent of nursing home residents suffered some kind of mistreatment at the hands of other residents. The study took place over a month and focused on 10 nursing homes across New York. More than 2,000 nursing home residents participated in the study, making this the first large study to ever specifically examine resident-to-resident abuse.
The study’s authors say that mistreatment is defined quite broadly and can encompass minor things like rifling through someone’s room or stealing food, all the way to verbal, physical or even sexual abuse. In the end, anything that could create physical or emotional distress in the victim was categorized as mistreatment.
The study discovered that three quarters of the incidents of mistreatment involved verbal abuse, while a quarter were physical. Though the fact that some resident-to-resident abuse took place isn’t surprising, experts say the extent of the harm was a surprise. Of the 2,000 residents who took part in the survey, 407 said that they suffered at least one instance of mistreatment during the month of the survey.
The findings raise some difficult questions for those in the elder care industry. Everyone agrees that if a staff member is found to be abusing a resident, he or she should be immediately fired and criminally prosecuted. The same may not be true of other residents, especially those with serious mental impairments. They may not even understand what they’re doing and may also be in serious need of quality care themselves. Simply removing them from the facility or charging them with abuse would do little to solve the problem.
Experts say that though the survey indicates that other residents may be cause for some concern, it is still more likely that a caregiver will be the source of abuse or neglect. It’s for this reason that loved ones must remain vigilant and ask questions. If you notice any signs of abuse, whether you think it’s from a staff member or resident, take steps immediately and report it.