A recent study by lead author Karl Pillemer, professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell College of Medicine in New York shockingly reveals that aggression among residents of nursing homes is widespread and "extremely high rates of conflict and violence" are common. In fact, Professor Pillemer discovered that one out of every five residents living in the nursing facilities studied was involved in at least one "negative and aggressive encounter" with another resident within a four-week period of time. These disturbing findings were made public earlier this month at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America in Washington, D. C.
The study, the first of its kind to look at the scope of negative aggression between residents, was conducted by researchers who examined patient records at ten nursing homes in the state of New York, interviewed staff and residents, and directly observed and recorded incidents of conflict, abuse or mistreatment. According to CommonHealth, of the more than 2000 nursing home residents involved in the study, researchers found that "16 percent were involved in incidents of cursing, screaming, or yelling; about 6 percent in physical violence such as hitting, kicking, or biting; one percent in "sexual incidents, such as exposing one's genitals, touching other residents, or attempting to gain sexual favors"; and 10.5 percent in events" labeled "other," such as, residents entering rooms uninvited or rummaging through others' belongings.
Often the reason for such aggression is due to obvious health problems, such as dementia, which can cause an individual's behavior to be less inhibited. However, there are other factors that are believed to contribute to conflict and violence among nursing home residents as well. The study found "higher rates of mistreatment in more crowded facilities, and in areas within facilities where residents were more densely gathered" and "higher rates of resident-on-resident aggression in nursing homes with lower staff-to-resident ratios." Professor Pillemer also notes that nursing home staff can become blind to the problem because of its frequency, which contributes to the problem, and that aggression between residents is cyclical in nature in that this negative behavior and its effects are "contagious." In other words, "[s]eeing these incidents causes other residents to be fearful, anxious, concerned--and that can lead to more of the behavior."