Too Close for Comfort: Nursing Home Residents Sometimes Abusive to Each Other


When we think of elder abuse, we usually associate it with family members and nursing home staff.

But an increase in resident-to resident aggressive encounters at residential facilities, and abusive or hostile behavior among nursing home residents is a growing problem.

According to a recent study by Cornell University-Weill Cornell Medical College, specific types of mistreatment that are common between residents include:

  • Verbal incidents, such as cursing, screaming or yelling at another resident
  • Physical incidents including hitting, kicking or biting
  • Sexual incidents, such as exposing one’s genitals, touching other residents or attempting to gain sexual favors
  • Unwelcome entry into another resident’s room or going through another resident’s possessions

This is the first study to directly observe and interview residents to determine the frequency and predictors of elder mistreatment between residents in nursing homes.

Interviews, facility reports, and a questionnaire taken by more than 2,000 residents and staff suggests that the individuals who are most likely to be involved in mistreatment incidents are younger, less cognitively and physically impaired, and more prone to disruptive behavior than fellow residents.

Those who typically engage in resident-on-resident nursing home abuse are somewhat cognitively disabled but physically capable of moving around the facility, according to the study. There was no significant difference between men and women, but African-Americans were less likely to be aggressive toward others than non-Latino white and Latino residents.

The Cornell study was funded by grants from the National Institute on Aging, the New York State Department of Health and the National Institute of Justice, and Jeanne Teresi, M.D., of the Hebrew Home for the Aged at Riverdale, New York was a collaborator.