1 in 5 Nursing Home Residents Are Abused by Their Peers, Study Suggests

Dr. Mark Lachs

Dr. Mark Lachs

Many elderly adults in nursing homes face abusive behavior from their fellow residents, a new study suggests.

About one in five nursing home residents experience verbal or physical abuse from their roommates or other residents, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by Dr. Mark Lachs, the co-chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Care and the co-director of the Center for Aging Research and Clinical Care at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Dr. Lachs and his research team examined data on 2,011 nursing home residents from five nursing homes in New York City and five nursing homes in suburban New York and found that 407 of the residents had been involved in at least one occurrence of abuse involving another resident during the four-week study period.

"The majority of these — three quarters — were verbal," he told WNYC. "The other quarter were physical aggression, and those could be threatening gestures, throwing an object, a menacing gesture with a cane, or coming at someone with a wheelchair."

Just over 9 percent of residents had gotten into a verbal conflict, while roughly 5 percent were involved in a physical incident. researchers found. Less than 1 percent experienced a sexual incident, according to the study.

“Much (but not all) of inter-personal aggression in nursing homes stems from the fact that people, many of whom have dementia and other neurodegenerative illnesses, are being thrust into communal living environments for the first time in decades, if ever,” Dr. Lachs told Reuters.

“While memory loss and other cognitive problems are cardinal features of dementia, the behavior problems that accompany dementia are notorious triggers for nursing home placement,” Dr. Lachs added in an email to the news agency. “When many such people are asked to share common spaces or become roommates, these situations can occur.” 

The research was the first large, systemic study of “resident-to-resident elder mistreatment,” Dr. Lachs wrote in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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