When we think of nursing home abuse, we often picture the staff neglecting or mistreating patients. But there’s another type of nursing home abuse that steadily increasing: inappropriate and aggressive behavior between nursing home residents.

In a study of 2,000 patients in ten New York State nursing homes, one in every five residents reported experiencing improper or hostile behavior from another resident. Oftentimes, this type of resident-on-resident violence goes undetected by staff or unreported to management.

If not appropriately handled, resident-on-resident abuse can escalate to dangerous levels. Serious injuries may occur and the improper behavior might even be fatal to an elderly resident, creating potential liability on the part of the nursing home.

Types of Abuse

Residents who participated in the New York study indicated the abuse they encounter from other patients is usually verbal. Patients also said they endure physical abuse, including hitting, kicking, and biting, and that scratching, spitting, and throwing objects also happens.

Sexual assault is also a problem, according to residents, with some patients exposing their genitals or making unwanted sexual advances toward other residents.

Reasons for the Behavior

According to the study, nursing home residents who mistreat others are typically cognitively disabled, yet physically able to move about the nursing home. This is why the study recommended that any intervention should be targeted at these residents.

The study also indicated that younger residents who are less cognitively and physically impaired, and who are prone to disruptive behavior, are more likely to be involved in an abusive scenario. Also, there are no significant differences between men and women when it comes to improper behavior.

Meanwhile, the study further showed that the facilities with the most cases of resident-on-resident violence shared certain characteristics:

  • They were more crowded
  • They were understaffed
  • Staff considered resident-on-resident abuse as “normal” and did not try to resolve ongoing conflicts between patients

Steps to Take

To effectively handle incidents of resident-on-resident abuse, the study suggested that nursing homes:

  • Have programs in place to educate and train staff to recognize and report mistreatment
  • Provide guidelines for staff to follow when incidents happen
  • Use an approach that takes into consideration the needs and abilities of individual residents

While it can be difficult to address resident-on-resident abuse because elderly patients often suffer from dementia or confusion, the study indicated the attitude of nursing home staff makes a dramatic difference in preventing conflicts among patients.

The best ways to reduce aggressiveness are to keep nursing home residents busy with physical activities and social interaction. This helps patients with cognitive disabilities get more sleep, which in turn reduces their anxiety level and makes them less aggressive.