Research on the prevalence of physical abuse in nursing homes has been difficult to conduct because there are significant flaws in the method of collecting the data. Both nursing home staff and resident families often harbor a sense of guilt which causes under-reporting in surveys conducted to address this issue. Nursing home staff may be less inclined to report instances of elder abuse because they or a colleague may be the perpetrators of the abuse. Similarly, family members may be hesitant to report elder abuse because they may feel a sense of culpability for having admitted their loved one to the facility in which they were victimized. Unfortunately, allowing abusers to continue performing their jobs puts more elderly at risk of being physically abused.
A study published in the Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect found that the overall prevalence of physical abuse in nursing homes is 24.3 percent. This study challenges the previously held belief that physical abuse correlated with increasing age in nursing home residents. In fact, it found that with each increasing year the chance of being physically abused decreased by 49 percent. This may be due to the fact that the prevalence of cognitive deficiencies increases with age, meaning that such residents need more group supervision than one-on-one staff to resident supervision. The increase in group supervision takes some responsibility off an individual staff member, allowing for a decrease in frustration or annoyance. This means that in order for there to be more successful monitoring of older residents, nursing homes must hire enough staff to ensure that their current staff members are not over-burdened with responsibility and performing poorly.
Another important finding in this study indicated that “needing help moving” was the only category which predicted abuse in the elderly. This study is significant because it reveals that those that are most in need of long term care, such as those with mental health issues and mobility problems are most at risk for physical abuse at these facilities. More importantly, this discovery highlights the need for better staff training at nursing homes, so that staff may be better equipped to deal with a highly dependent or troublesome resident with patience and respect. Because the majority of physical abuse of elderly in nursing homes involves caretaker mistreatment, an improvement in the quality of training would likely decrease the overall prevalence of nursing home abuse.