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Moving into a nursing home or long-term care facility is traumatic for patient and family alike. Nosy and aggressive neighbors in the nursing home make the transition even more difficult. Here's what to do about them.

As the population ages, more and more of us face prospects of moving into a nursing home or convalescent care facility, or moving a family member into a nursing home or convalescent care facility. The costs of full-time care are staggering, averaging about $70,000 a year in the United States, and the loss of independence and privacy make for hard adjustments for patient and family alike. The relatively crowded quarters are especially difficult to deal with when other patients are nosy or aggressive.

How does nosy or aggressive behavior play out in a nursing home? Patient A may be sitting in a wheelchair in the TV room. Patient B, who suffers dementia but who is still ambulatory, may imagine Patient A has said something offensive and go over and pinch Patient A's hand. The nursing aide monitoring the TV room separates the two patients, but she sees Patient C wandering out the door and goes off to intervene. Patient B then kicks Patient A in the shins, and Patient A rams Patient B with her wheelchair.

Patient on patient nursing home abuse is more common than you might think. A five-year study presented at the 2014 meeting of the Gerontological Society of America's reported that 19.8% of nursing home residents experienced physical, verbal, or sexual abuse termed "resident-to-resident elder mistreatment" in the previous month.

In the survey and observation of 2,000 nursing home residents, average age 84, 16.5% reported that they had been verbally abused in the past month, 6.5% that they had been physically abused. The study found that 10.5% of patients had their belongings had been rummaged through or stolen in that single month, or that other patients had entered their rooms uninvited. Problems between nursing home residents are so common, in fact, that many caregivers take them for granted.

Tracking Mistreatment Is Challenging

It's possible that the real frequencies of patient-to-patient problems in nursing homes are much higher. Some nursing home patients simply won't remember bad things that happen to them. They may have bruises and bite marks that they cannot explain, or they may think that they did something to injure themselves, and avoid asking for help. Other patients may fear that reporting abuse could result in retaliation by the patient they report.

Nursing aides may be hesitant to report incidents for fear of what their supervisors says. And nursing home management is usually hesitant to create a paper trail that could be subpoenaed if they were sued or charged with state health code violations.

Sexual Misconduct Is Surprisingly Common In Nursing Homes

The Gerontological Society of America also found that 1.3% of nursing home residents were sexually abused during a month of observation. There are reasons nursing home residents are at higher risk for sexual abuse. Many medications given to nursing home residents have psychotropic side effects. The medication Artane (L-dopa) given to people who have Parkinson's disease, for instance, increases sexual urges, and causes men to have erections after mental, not just physical, stimulation. Up to 7% of people who have Alzheimer's disease become sexually disinhibited, pursuing relationships with other patients who are similarly disinhibited. Persons with dementia may mistake other patients for their spouses.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Dong X, Simon MA, Beck T, Farran, C., McCann, J., Mendes de Leon, C, et al. (2011). Elder abuse and mortality: The role of psychological and social wellbeing. Gerontology, 57(6), 549-558.
  • Span, P. Easing Tensions in the Nursing Home. New York Times. 19 October 2009.Photo courtesy of Pictures by Ann via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/picturesbyann/12455810645
  • Photo courtesy of Pedrosimoes7 by Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/pedrosimoes7/13915699055
  • Mind map by SteadyHealth.com