Nursing home abuse is about more than staff neglecting residents

It is not easy to choose the right care facility for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer's disease. There are different types of dementia, different stages to Alzheimer's, different reactions to the cognitive decline -- the only thing that anyone can really predict is that this won't get any better. You are losing your mother or your grandfather, or your husband, and the best you can hope for is that he or she will be comfortable, cared for and safe from harm.

Over the years we have heard terrible stories about nursing home abuse and neglect. Officials shut down facilities when they discover that residents have not had enough food or the right medications, when the facility is dirty or the staff is spread too thin. There are the rare occasions of physical or mental abuse of residents at the hands of people who are supposed to be taking care of them, too.

More and more, there are also cases of residents abusing other residents. There are any number of reasons this happens, but there are very few ways to deal with it right now.

Advocates for the elderly and vulnerable have offered a few explanations. First, they say, nursing homes and similar care facilities mix, especially smaller operations, do not separate the elderly residents from the unstable and restless residents. Remember, nursing homes do not only care for older adults. They care, too, for adults with mental illnesses.

People with dementia and Alzheimer's may be aggressive themselves. Patients experience confusion and disorientation as their conditions progress. In some cases, they can lash out at caregivers, even loved ones. Remember, too, that Alzheimer's and dementia are not just "old people's diseases." A person with dementia may be in great physical shape -- powerful enough to do real harm to another person, powerful enough to be a challenge for staff to subdue.

Statistics for these kinds of incidents are hard to come by at the state level, so it's hard to know the types of issues that Tennessee's facilities face. There is, however, some troubling data available for the country as a whole. We will go through some of those numbers in our next post.

Source: The Virginian-Pilot/New America Media, "Elder Abuse Rising in Care Facilities Mixing the Frail and the Disturbed," Elizabeth Simpson, Feb. 25, 2015

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