Oct 09, 2018

Resident-on-Resident Abuse: “Someone Tried to Kill Me Last Night”

One of our readers has shared her story of the resident-on-resident abuse her mother fell victim to while in temporary care. She is calling for cameras to be introduced in all aged care facilities.

Susan Cosgrove’s mother, Mary*, who has dementia, went into temporary care recently after she suffered a small bleed on her brain.

But rather than receiving the care and support she needed, Mary, who was still recovering, was violently attacked at the residence on two different occasions by two different residents, both with dementia. One attack occurred on Mary’s very first night in care.

Unfortunately, resident-on-resident abuse does occur from time to time in aged care facilities, and the consequences of the attacks can sometimes be fatal. Research published in Age and Ageing, states that resident-on-resident abuse is “ubiquitous” and has “serious consequences” for aged care residents.

The research also concluded the area is “understudied”, and needs further examination.

In the incident described by Ms Cosgrove, on Mary’s first night in care, she was apparently dragged out of bed by her hair and pulled across the floor.

Ms Cosgrove believes that nobody at the facility would have informed her of the incident, or called a doctor, if her mother hadn’t told her about it.

When Ms Cosgrove went to visit her mother the day after the attack, Mary told her, “Someone tried to kill me last night.”

Ms Cosgrove initially didn’t know whether to believe her mother or not, but proof of the incident came when she discovered bruises on her back and elbows. After asking a carer to take photos and raising the issue with staff, Mary was finally seen to by a medical professional.

Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service (DBMAS) support came to the facility to work with the staff after the incident, at Ms Cosgrove’s request, and developed a plan to help Mary.

At the time, Mary was barricading herself in her room with chairs against the doors. DBMAS wrote a detailed report on the best way for staff to approach her, in order to try to gain her trust.

After the first incident, Ms Cosgrove reported the incident to management, but the response was not satisfactory.

For example, the facility’s proposal to move Ms Cosgrove’s mother to a room at the other end of the floor was not followed through.

Ms Cosgrove was also distressed to find her mother seated next to her aggressor one meal time.

Mary’s behaviour changed after the attack.

She not only barricaded herself in her room, she also became incontinent, which Ms Cosgrove attribute’s to the stress of the attack.

In the second attack, Mary was grabbed by the throat by a male resident.

A staff member witnessed the attack this time, possibly saving Mary’s life.

Thankfully, the staff members followed procedure in this case. Ms Cosgrove was contacted within 30 minutes, and the offending resident was seen to by a psychologist.

How can we protect aged care residents from violence?

Ms Cosgrove reached out to HelloCare to share her story after reading our article about security cameras in aged care.

Ms Cosgrove’s opinion is that cameras should be installed in aged care facilities to help protect the vulnerable residents.

“If you look at any large corporation in Australia, it is a given that when you’re on company property there are cameras everywhere. Why is it that when we come to aged care that we have this big issue around privacy?”

She said rules and regulations could be established to protect privacy, such as only allowing film to be viewed if it was suspected that a crime had been committed.

Ms Cosgrove said she didn’t only fear for elderly residents, but also for staff.

She said she knew at least one staff member at the residence had been punched in the stomach by a resident living with dementia.

Ms Cosgrove said she hadn’t put a camera in her mother’s room so far, “but I think about it every day.”

What will the Royal Commission mean for aged care abuse victims and their families?

Ms Cosgrove said she was “over the moon” when she heard the announcement of the Royal Commission.

“I did a massive happy dance,” she said.

She hopes the Royal Commission will examine the fact that current regulations do not require violent acts to be reported if they are committed by a person with a cognitive impairment.  

A spokeswoman from The Department of Health  said, “An Approved Provider does not have to report if the alleged assault is perpetrated by a resident with an assessed cognitive or mental impairment, and care arrangements are put in place to manage the behaviour within 24 hours.”

More information about compulsory reporting is available on The Department of Health’s website.

Ms Cosgrove is concerned that if some violent attacks aren’t being reported, how can the Royal Commission address the matter of resident-on-resident violence in its enquiries?

“How are we going to investigate violence occurring in aged care if it’s not being reported?” she asked.

Ms Cosgrove hopes to make her own contribution to the Royal Commission.

“I’ve already put my hand up,” she said. “They need to hear the real stories.”


* The names in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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  1. Aged Care facilities do not have enough staffing, support or funding to look after residents’ aggressive behaviours. Most places are closing their dementia wings, due to the inadequacy of government assistance and cases like these as it is too hard. Facilities would be happy to accept these residents initially if their “security of tenure” did not prevent them from moving them to secure psycho- geriatric facilities where they have the appropriate resources if needed. Obviously you need more staffing and doctors handy, to monitor these people. “One fits all” approach to dementia does not work. Little ladies who are confused wanderers will often upset aggressive males by their intrusions albeit innocent. The two don’t work well together.

  2. Thank you for exposing a very real problem, the support and care of those experiencing an organic mental disease such as Alzheimer’s disease is often poorly recognised, understood and treated. There is a assumption that frail older people with the disease can do no harm, not true and treatment is not within the scope of a psychologist. The real concern is lack of expertise and adequate staffing, nearly every (sadly not all) case a abuse can be traced back to these issues. For too long the “all they need is love” brigade have been listened to with disastrous results.


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