A recent report published in renowned journal Annals of Internal Medicine reveals a growing problem of elder abuse within nursing facilities being committed by fellow residents of such communities. According to researchers, roughly 20 percent of those residing in these types of care facilities suffer some sort of abuse from another resident.
The authors of the study examined incidents of verbal, sexual and physical abuse seen in 10 different nursing facilities located within the state of New York. Five facilities were situated in urban areas and the remaining five were suburban in nature. 2,000 total residents were included in the research, which utilized chart reviews, resident interviews, incident reports, shift coupons, staff interviews and personal observations to gather data. The average patient included in the research was 84 years of age, and over 70% of those who reported having experienced abuse of one type or another were female.
The findings of the study are sure to raise alarms to families of nursing home residents, regulatory authorities and others, as approximately 407 of the elderly patients observed had reported at least one event characterized as abuse while residing in their facility. 45% of these cases involved verbal assaults of one sort of another, physical assault amounted to 26% of all cases, invasion of privacy was implicated in 20 percent of incidents, menacing movements or gestures made up 4 percent of these events and sexual assault represented 3 percent.
Reasons for patient abuse closely examined
Given the extremely concerning nature of these findings, researchers also explored the likely reasons for the prevalence of abuse among nursing facility residents. It was found that abuse was most common among individuals for whom contextual or clinical issues were present, including dementia or other cognitive impairment. Sadly, high caseloads and insufficient staffing levels were also identified as contributors to the unacceptable number of incidents of abuse between elderly residents. Indeed, the National Center on Elder Abuse has indicated that approximately half of all nursing facilities in the United States have staff levels insufficient to fully meet resident needs.
It is important to note that the authors of the study themselves acknowledged that their research methods may not have captured all actual instances of abuse within the subject facilities. This is due to the researchers’ heavy reliance on staff, patient and family member accounts of past events. Because abuse events appeared most common among elderly individuals suffering from neurocognitive challenges, the study team urges facility planners and others to consider more effective methods of keeping those individuals separated from other patients.
Safeguarding our seniors
Older Americans are among the most vulnerable populations, and it is vital that their loved ones remain vigilant against signs of abuse. With those 65 and older expected to comprise nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population by 2050, issues surrounding elder care are certain to take on greater urgency than ever before. Statistics from the National Council on Aging suggest that as many as 5 million elderly individuals experience abuse every year and that as few as 1 in 14 cases are ever reported to the proper authorities.
It is clear that family members of aging individuals need to remain watchful of changes in their loved one’s behaviors and habits which can be indicative of abuse. Physical signs of mistreatment or violence, unusual withdrawal from social activities, sudden changes in demeanor, poor personal hygiene and unexpected weight loss can all be hallmarks of elder abuse.
When it becomes clear that a nursing facility is failing to protect its patients or is actively engaging in unspeakable abuse of seniors, it is the responsibility of families, caregivers and legal advocates to step in and fight for accountability.
Maine elder abuse lawyers
Hardy, Wolf and Downing are leading elder abuse attorneys in Maine, fighting for the rights of injury victims since 1976. Our practice is committed to protecting the rights of senior citizens. If you or a loved one have been subjected to any sort of mistreatment or abuse in a residential nursing home or other care environment, we invite you to contact us at 1-800-INJURED for a no-cost consultation.