Nursing Home Abuse by Other Residents

Written by
Abraham Jaros
Updated on Thursday, Oct 26, 2023

Are nursing home residents ever abused by other residents?

Much has been written about nursing home abuse by staff members and measures are (hopefully) being taken to curb the problem. As more research has been done about abuse in nursing homes, however, an important, previously ignored, difficulty has come to light: the abuse of patients by other patients. It is now estimated that at least one in five of all nursing home residents has suffered verbal or physical abuse from another resident. If a member of your family has been injured in a nursing care facility in New York, you should contact an experienced, competent personal injury attorney to discuss your options. The Disturbing Facts Recently collected data shows that of 2,011 nursing home residents interviewed and/or examined, 407 of them had been abused by a roommate or other resident during the month-long study. While a whopping 45 percent of these cases involved only verbal abuse, we all know that words can hurt, particularly if you have limited mobility and no choice but to remain a captive audience. Alarmingly, 26 percent of the nursing home residents studied were victims of physical assaults. In all probability, there were even more incidents of verbal and/or physical abuse than were ever reported. Although verbal and physical abuse were the most often reported forms of abuse, another 20 percent of abuse incidents involved invasion of privacy. This is no surprise in a situation in which people unused to communal living are put together and when a fair number of them have dementia which often prompts them to wander, or to handle or take things that don’t belong to them. In another 4 percent of cases, residents experienced “assaults" in the form of nasty or threatening facial expressions or gestures. A bit less than 3 percent of reported incidents involved some kind of sexual abuse. Reasons for the Abusive Behavior There are several possible explanations for the destructive, often frightening, behavior of some nursing home residents. According to Dr. Mark Lachs, a researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine and director of geriatrics at New York Presbyterian Health Care System, these include:

  • Depression or anxiety about being in an institutional setting, away from family and friends
  • High number of patients with dementia who are experiencing brain changes that may make them unusually cranky, paranoid, and/or aggressive
  • Medical issues which cause physical, as well as emotional, pain, and make residents more sensitive and contentious

Many nursing home residents have never before had a roommate that was not a family member and have not had to live, eat and relax in a communal atmosphere before. This may make some residents more combative than they used to be. Research Methods In order to be as thorough as possible, Lachs and his colleagues interviewed both staff and residents of five urban and five suburban nursing homes in New York. In addition, they gleaned data from medical charts and accident/incident reports. When language barriers were present, or when patients were unable or unwilling to communicate, the researchers arranged for interviews with family members or legal guardians. Demographics of the Study On average, the nursing home residents were about 84 years old. Seventy-five percent were women and approximately 16 percent were in special units designated for patients with dementia. Avoiding the Problem When looking for an appropriate nursing home, it is important to check out whether the patient will be able to have a private room, how much communal space is available for peace and recreation, indoors and outdoors, what special arrangements are made for patients with dementia, and what the visible staff to patient ratio is. If, in spite of all the care you take in placing your loved one in a clean, pleasant, well-organized facility, he or she suffers abuse involving personal injury, be sure, once you secure his or her safety, that you consult with a well-established personal injury attorney who will fight vigorously to get you and your loved one the compensation you deserve.

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