A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology investigated the prevalence of resident aggression and abuse in assisted living facilities. Due to the tremendous growth in the population of older Americans, elder abuse has been identified as a public health care concern.
Definitions of elder abuse vary from state to state and even between organizations. The American Medical Association (AMA) defines elder abuse as “an act of commission or omission that results in harm or threatened harm to the health or welfare of an older adult.” Although definitions vary, there is a growing consensus that elder abuse is comprised of five components:
1. Physical abuse, including acts that cause physical pain or injury
2. Psychological abuse, including acts that cause emotional pain or injury
3. Sexual abuse, defined as non-consensual sexual contact of any kind
4. Financial exploitation, which involved any misappropriation of an older adult’s money or property
5. Neglect which includes self-neglect or a caregiver’s failure to meet a dependent older adult’s needs.
The study looked at 6848 residents who were 65 years or older and lived in assisted living facilities. The study found that of this population, 7.6% of residents engaged in physical abuse toward other residents or staff in the past month, 9.5% of residents had engaged in verbal abuse toward other residents or staff in the past month and 2.0% of residents had engaged in sexual abuse toward other residents or staff members in the past month. People age 85 and older had the highest rates of aggression (60.4%). Women comprised nearly three fourths (73%) of residents in the sample.
It needs to be noted that a significant association between dementia and resident aggression was noted. “Physical abuse has the highest association with dementia. These results show that dementia raises the likelihood of inflicting as well as provoking a resident to engage in physical, verbal, and sexual abuse in assisted living settings.”
The study recommends increased training for caregivers and staff in assisted living facilities focusing on abuse detection and abuse prevention facilities. Training needs to specifically focus on abuse prevention and managing aggressive behaviors in residents who have dementia.