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Should you be concerned about resident-to-resident abuse?

Resident-to-resident abuse is a lesser-known form of elder abuse in nursing homes, but one could argue that this form is more troubling due to its obscurity. Resident-to-resident abuse is a concern for individuals with parents or family members in long-term care facilities because it often goes unreported, happening in corners or beyond the notice of nursing home staff or other residents. But to better understand this problem, it’s important to define what constitutes abuse.

What is abuse?

Abuse happens when one person willfully harms another. The harm might be physical, sexual, emotional or psychological. It might mean neglect or abandonment. It might be financial or even self-inflicted. According to the National Long-Term Care Ombudsmen Resource Center, there is a marked difference between resident-to-resident mistreatment (RRM), which can occur without proper supervision and care planning, and abuse. In RRM, harm occurs accidentally or coincidentally and not through malicious intent.

What factors put an individual at higher risk for resident-to-resident mistreatment or even abuse?

  • Those with cognitive impairments due to dementia or mental illness
  • Those with behavioral symptoms, particularly those that tend to disrupt others, such as shouting, entering others’ rooms without invitation or counting steps
  • Those with aggressive or negative personalities or a history of issues interacting with others

What risk factors make a facility more likely to have incidents of resident-to-resident mistreatment?

  • Insufficient staff
  • High number of dementia patients, as in a memory care unit
  • Lack of individualized care
  • Not enough engaging activities
  • Crowded and noisy common areas

Every individual has the right to freedom from abuse and neglect. Even as mistreatment does not automatically equate to abuse, a potential perpetrator having a mental or cognitive impairment does not eliminate abuse as a possibility. Each incident must be investigated, and treatment must be provided to both parties.

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