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Nursing Home Abuse From Fellow Patients a Growing Problem

The New York Times recently chronicled the heartbreaking, yet all-too-familiar saga of a woman who stood helplessly aside as her husband spiraled further into dementia, the disease causing him to become progressively more aggressive.

He would lunge at the television when they were watching a movie, as if he intended to fight the bad guy himself. One day he tried to strike a caregiver who was hired to help bathe and feed him. When the wife no longer felt safe at home alone amid her husband’s angry outbursts, she sent him to live in a nursing home.

Our Delray Beach nursing home abuse lawyers know that scenarios like this are very common. It’s part of the reason why violence in nursing homes is so often perpetuated by fellow patients.

A survey conducted by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America last year found that aggressive behavior and/or fears that a patient will harm himself or others are among the top reasons that family caregivers consider placing a loved one in an institution.

Nursing home administrators and staffers have a responsibility to protect all of their patients. This means ensuring that the aggressive outbursts of dementia patients are mitigated and subdued and also doing everything possible to protect other patients in the event that the reaction can’t be subdued.

Of course, it’s not only dementia patients that harm fellow residents — but we do know that a large portion of nursing home residents suffer from some form of dementia. A German study published last spring by the Cambridge University Press found that nearly one-third of all dementia patients have displayed physically aggressive behavior. Most often, that behavior was manifested in harm to ones’ self or ones’ caregiver, but it was not always limited to those individuals.

In Toronto, the story of a 68-year-old dementia patient made headlines when he was violently beaten about the face and head with a wooden activity board. He suffered severe bruising and head wounds. He was found by staffers slumped over in a chair, drenched in blood. The culprit? A fellow elderly dementia patient, female, who was known to have a propensity for aggressive and violent outbursts. She reportedly entered the man’s room and assaulted him not once but twice before staffers realized what happened.

The Canadian Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care estimates the number of incidents of patient-on-patient top 10,000 annually. It’s believed to be much higher in the U.S.

Dementia patients who display aggression don’t mean to be that way. It’s the disease. Confusing, fear, anger or pain may cause someone to lash out by kicking, hitting, biting, throwing and shoving.

In a lot of cases, staffers are trained to use certain behavioral approaches to soothe an aggressive outburst. Sometimes, it’s as simple as allowing that person to do what they want.

Routines can be important, especially in a larger facility, but being flexible is often key to reducing aggression in dementia patients.

For example, one facility in Ohio recalled having a former resident who would yell and swing and curse at the aides who attempted to wake him up at 8 a.m., the normal time. However, when the staff switched gears and allowed him to sleep until 10 a.m., they had no problems at all.

It’s also important for staffers to pay attention to medical problems, such as depression, pain or infection, that the person may not be able to properly express, which could in turn cause him or her to act out. Environmental factors, such as crowds and noises, could also have an impact.

In some cases, other residents at the home are simply innocent bystanders to these outbursts, but they may still be harmed. Nursing homes have a responsibility to ensure they are protected.

Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
When Aggression Follows Dementia, July 12, 2013, By Paula span, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:
Authorities Catch Nursing Home Abuse on Camera, June 25, 2013, Delray Beach Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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