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Dementia and rising nursing home populations a dangerous mix

When you hear the term "elder abuse," what do you think of? Many people might imagine an elderly nursing home patient being abused by a staff member. Others might imagine a younger family member who is supposed to be a caregiver but is instead abusing a vulnerable, aging adult.

Both of these scenarios are sadly common, but there is another kind of elder abuse that is becoming a growing problem in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. It occurs when mentally incapacitated residents (often suffering from dementia) attack other residents who are too weak and frail to defend themselves.

Although the phenomenon involves residents attacking other residents, it is ultimately an issue of nursing home neglect. Nursing homes and other facilities have a responsibility to protect all residents, which may require them to take special security precautions with residents who have a history of aggression and violence. When facilities are understaffed or do not take appropriate security measures, violence can erupt between patients.

A 2014 study attempted to quantify the problem. The results showed that approximately 20 percent of nursing home residents had been "involved in at least one aggressive encounter with fellow residents" within the past month.

Many baby boomers are reaching old age, which likely means a spike in the number of nursing home residents. Meanwhile, modern healthcare has found ways to prolong the average lifespan but not a way to prevent or treat Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. By most indicators, the problem of resident-on-resident violence will likely get worse rather than better.

If you have a loved one living in a nursing home or long-term care facility, please be vigilant to ensure that they receive the care and security they need. And if you suspect your loved one has been the victim of nursing home neglect or abuse, please share your concerns with an experienced elder abuse attorney.

Source: News Media America, "Elder Abuse Rising in Care Facilities Mixing the Frail and the Disturbed," Elizabeth Simpson, Feb. 25, 2015

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