Resident-to-Resident Abuse, A Newly Discovered Threat to Nursing Home Patients

As a top Louisville KY nursing home abuse lawyer, the Thomas Law Offices are all too familiar with the prevalence of abuse in elder care homes. A recent study shows that it is shockingly common for elderly patients at nursing homes to be abused by other residents.  Prior studies have shown abuse at the hands of staff members of nursing home facilities, but Dr. Mark Lachs and other leading researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine in New York are the first to conduct a large-scale, systematic study looking at resident-to-resident abuse.  Surveillance was performed for a full month in each of 10 urban and suburban nursing homes in New York State.  More than 2,000 residents participated in the study, and about one in five experienced verbal or physical mistreatment from other residents.

For the purposes of the study, the term “mistreatment” encompassed a range of behaviors, from coming into someone else’s room and going through their belongings, to being run over by a wheelchair, having food taken off your plate uninvited, verbal abuse such as name-calling, and instances of physical violence and sexual assault.  It included any unwelcome behavior that could lead to physical or psychological distress.  The study reported that three-quarters of the events were verbal and one-quarter were physical.  Behavior was tracked through interviews with residents and staff, observation, chart notes, and incident reports.  In the month the study took place, 407 of the 2,011 participating residents experienced at least one instance of mistreatment.

The study calls for a shift in focus concerning elderly abuse.  While it is important for abusive staff members to be addresses, their employment terminated, and their charges prosecuted, it is equally important to make changes in nursing home facilities to protect against resident-to resident abuse.  Staff members should be made aware to watch to for warning signs and environmental cues that often accompany abusive situations.  Yelling, which is a common occurrence in patients suffering from dementia, should not be ignored by members of nursing staff.  Better lighting and the availability of quiet, private spaces could also improve the quality of care for these patients.  Peaceful activities and relaxing time should be more readily available for residents, encouraging calm and reducing an overall state of agitation.

According to the Administration for Community Living, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 5 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse.  Experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect reported, as many as 23 cases go unreported.  While it is likely that more studies surrounding resident-to-resident abuse will follow, the findings of Lach’s study are significant enough to begin making changes now.  If you wish to learn more about elderly abuse in nursing home facilities, contact Thomas Law Offices for more information.

Thanks to our friend and blog author, Tad Thomas of Thomas Law Offices, for his insight into combatting elderly abuse in nursing homes.