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Nursing home abuse is a pervasive problem, with an estimated five million seniors victimized by elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation every year. A new study shows just how frequently residents of nursing home facilities experience abuse.

The study was unique because it focused not on abuse at the hands of nursing home operators, but instead was designed to determine how often nursing home patients are mistreated and harmed by other residents. The results showed a surprising and troubling amount of abusive behavior comes from other seniors who are residing in the same nursing facility.

Nursing Home Abuse By Other Residents is a Common Issue

CBS News reported as many as one out of every five patients who lives in a nursing home environment is mistreated or abused by other residents. Abuse or mistreatment was defined to include verbal abuse as well as physical mistreatment.

The study was conducted over a month-long period in 10 urban and suburban nursing homes. There were more than 2,000 total nursing home residents in the study. It was the first research to try to assess resident-to-resident abuse on a large scale.

Unfortunately, of the 2,011 seniors who were included in the study, a total of 407 experienced at least one incident in which they were maltreated by another resident over the course of the month-long study. The results showed a troubling array of different harmful behaviors including:

  • Residents entering the room of another patient and rifling through their belongings.
  • Residents running other patients over with their wheelchairs.
  • Residents taking food from each other’s plates without permission.
  • Name calling and other verbal abuse.
  • Physical violence, including pushing, punching, kicking, and slapping.
  • Sexual assault.

Any unwanted behavior which could cause physical damage or psychological distress to patients was considered to be abuse when determining the risk level for residents. Approximately 75% of the recorded cases involved verbal abuse and 25% of the events involved physical abuse.

When abuse occurs between residents, it can actually be a harder issue to resolve than situations where a staff member is abusive. Nursing home staff can be arrested and prosecuted for abuse, but it is not always possible to hold fellow nursing home residents accountable, especially if they suffer from conditions like dementia which make them unable to control their behavior.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the nursing home to make sure not only that its staff members are not engaging in abuse, but also to ensure that residents are not harming each other. Possible suggestions for patients with dementia include creating a calming environment, limiting distractions, preventing large crowds, and offer relaxing activities.

Changing the culture of nursing homes can also be helpful in protecting vulnerable patients. If a nursing home fails in their policies and residents experience abuse at the hands of their peers, that nursing home could be held accountable for its negligent failure to supervise and prevent harm.