The term ‘elder abuse’ typically brings to mind victimization by family members or abuse and neglect on the part of nursing home staff. However, a new first of its kind study from Cornell University finds elder-to-elder mistreatment is a growing and significant problem in long term care facilities throughout the U.S.
The study, released in November from the Weill Cornell Medical College, finds that of the more than 2,000 nursing home residents surveyed, nearly 20 percent reported involvement in some form of negative aggression with another resident in the previous month. Behaviors documented range from verbal and physical abuse to unwanted sexual gestures to rummaging through another resident’s personal belongings. The study’s authors say they were surprised by the findings.
“There’s no question that this is an underestimate given that some staff and some residents might be unwilling to admit this or that we would have seen incidents,” said the study’s lead author Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., a professor of Gerontology in Medicine at Cornell. “So, I would consider this to be the low end of the possible estimate.”
Pillemer said part of addressing the problem is getting caretakers to recognize that there is a problem in the first place. “If you talk to folks who work in nursing homes, they just tend to accept this as inevitable. Simply having people be aware that this really ought not be a normal occurrence; it ought to be intervened in and therefore staff training around awareness is really critical.”
Pillemer is now testing an elder-to-elder mistreatment awareness training program for nursing home staff to encourage intervention and change the mindset that these types of incidents are normal and inevitable. The research also finds that elder to elder abuse rates were lower in facilities with higher staff to patient ratios. Florida is home to about 72,000 of the nation’s nearly 1.4 million nursing home residents.