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Lax care for weakest residents

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — More than one in five elderly nursing home residents in Michigan are neglected—and the most vulnerable—those with severe physical and behavior problems stemming from an illness like dementia—are often victimized the most.

“These nursing home residents are very dependent on their caregivers for food, water and personal hygiene needs,” says Zhenmei Zhang, assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University.

“If they are neglected it can lead to serious consequences such as malnutrition, dehydration, bed sores, and even early death.”

The study, published in the Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect, is one of the first to examine risk factors for elder neglect in nursing homes based on a survey of residents’ family members.

It found that about 21 percent of residents were neglected at least once in the past year—a number that likely is an underestimate because family members aren’t aware of all incidents of neglect, Zhang says.

“This is probably the tip of the iceberg.”

The scientific survey which was random and anonymous, so participants didn’t have to fear reprisal against their elderly family members, examined cases of physical neglect, in which the caregiver fails or refuses to meet a resident’s needs of food, water, personal hygiene, clothing, medicine, shelter, personal safety, and comfort.

Zhang says changes need to be made in care and policy. Among the recommendations:

  • A training program should be implemented on the recognition and reporting of neglect in nursing homes that addresses the most common conditions in which neglect occurs and potential consequences such as bed sores, dehydration and death.
  • The needs and physical limitations of new residents should be assessed carefully, with the results and proper guidelines for care made available to staff.
  • Staffers should pay closer attention to victims of resident-to-resident abuse and try to prevent such abuse from occurring. These victims are more likely to be neglected.
  • Family members should be educated about neglect so they can better monitor the well-being of their relatives.

Researchers from Yale University, American University, DePaul University, and the George Morris Centre in Canada contributed to the research that was funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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