When families are confronted with the decision of placing an aging loved one in a nursing home, common concerns center on the quality of the facility's amenities and staff. The ultimate question: Can I trust these people to take care of my loved one?
But, according to a group of Cornell researchers, there could be another potential danger to living in a nursing home that caregivers shouldn't overlook: the other residents.
Every month, as many as 20 percent of older Americans who live in nursing homes are subjected to seriously bad behavior from one of their fellow residents, such as physical and verbal abuse, privacy invasions or unwanted sexual attention. "The findings suggest that these altercations are widespread and common in everyday nursing home life," says study co-author Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in a press release.
The role of dementia
Much of the resident-to-resident mistreatment (16 percent) was relatively minor and involved purely verbal actions such as screaming and cursing. Another ten percent had their privacy violated when a fellow resident came into their room, uninvited or went through their personal belongings. However, small percentages of residents did experience more serious incidents of physical violence (e.g. biting, hitting, kicking, etc.) or sexual advances (e.g. touching in inappropriate areas, exposing one's genitals, etc.).
Grappling with the challenges of cognitive impairment made a nursing home resident significantly more likely to mistreat their fellow residents. "Often their underlying dementia or mood disorder can manifest as verbally or physically aggressive behavior," Pillemer notes. "It's no surprise that these individuals are more likely to partake in arguments, shouting matches, and pushing and shoving, particularly in close, crowded quarters."
Overall, resident altercations tended to be more common between younger individuals with fewer physical and mental impairments.
Keeping your loved one safe
The findings of studies like these appear to add evidence to the argument against nursing home placement, but if your loved one needs to enter a long-term care facility, there are things you can do to help keep them safe from abuse.