Nursing homes have gotten a negative reputation over the last decade, as government agencies encourage senior care through community avenues instead of institutional. However, funding for at-home care is still slow to funnel through government channels, so those seniors without the money or family support to receive care at home are still being sent to nursing homes that are often underfunded and understaffed. This leaves seniors vulnerable to all of the problems that nursing homes have been criticized for, including neglect and potential abuse even abuse by another resident.
Is Resident-On-Resident Abuse Really A Problem?
A nursing home is an example of a micro-society in action. In larger homes, there are often hundreds of people living in one setting. The atmosphere is conducive to the creation of cliques and interest-based groups. As with society in general, a nursing home setting often provokes discord between people who don’t have the same beliefs or lifestyles. This can often escalate to physical or verbal confrontations.
While this kind of escalation is to be expected when you put so many different people together, not all residents need a reason to create discord. There are bullies and cantankerous people in nursing homes just as there are anywhere else, and these people regularly victimize their peers. This resident to resident elder mistreatment (RREM) is not a prevalent part of nursing home life but has become a greater problem in recent years. In a study published in 2016 by The National Consumer Voice, 19.8% of those surveyed reported experiencing RREM.
The Reasons Behind Residents Mistreating Each Other
There are many reasons that seniors experience physical or verbal altercations with other seniors. However, the majority of abusive relationships begin when younger patients with dementia or other neurological degenerative disorders are put in with vulnerable seniors in communal settings.
Aggressive behavior is often considered a normal component of memory disorders, as patients often lose function in crucial areas of the brain controlling behavior. This doesn’t negate other forms of abuse that occur due to “normal” problems with roommates or neighbors, but it does imply that there is more of a prevalence of abuse that occurs as a result of intermingling between regular patients and those with cognitive disorders. According to some reports, the aggressive behavior from dementia patients often triggers decisions by families to place senior relatives in nursing home settings.
Who Is To Blame For Residential Abuse?
It is clear from statistics and recent studies that placing dementia patients together with fully-functioning seniors might result in aggressive behavior and abusive situations. This would lead one to believe that nursing home administrators should be held responsible for at least some of the abuse that occurs in overcrowded and understaffed nursing homes. But as easy as it is to place all the blame on owners of a nursing home, it must be shared by those who work the floors on a daily basis.
Nurses and aides have constant communication with residents of the nursing home and see a lot of potential abuse before it ever happens. Other residents also see the events that occur in community areas and have internal knowledge of goings-on throughout the nursing home. Does this mean that we should blame residents for the abuse of other residents, or accuse nurses and aides of covering up abuse by ignoring it? Of course not. But it does require that there be more communication between nursing home residents, workers, and administrators about the things that happen in the community.
Avoiding The Potential For Abuse
Much of the problem of resident-on-resident abuse can be solved by separating Alzheimer’s/Dementia patients from the general population to provide them with the individual care they need and to protect other residents from outbursts and aggression. Most higher-level nursing homes already have separate Alzheimer’s departments, and the trend is trickling down to lower-income homes. Other ways to avoid RREMs include
- holding seniors accountable for abuse or aggression towards other residents
- listening to residents who express fear of certain residents or roommates
- permitting criminal charges to be filed against aggressive residents instead of relying on arbitration agreements
Every senior deserves to live their senior years in a comfortable setting that embraces social interaction and positive relationships. Living in fear of other residents should not be tolerated.