Alzheimer’s Disease Resident to Resident Violence

Assisted living communities are viewed as nice places to live where residents treat each other with respect; not always true. In February 2015, a man living at an assisted living community in Lakewood, Colorado (diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease) allegedly beat his roommate to death. Prior to this event the two men had been previously involved in physical skirmishes.

In 2009 wrestling legend, Verne Gagne, body-slammed a 97 year old fellow resident in the nursing home where they both lived resulting in the death of the other resident. Behavioral and personality changes are common in individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and as evidenced by these two unfortunate events, threatening behaviors may be unpredictable.

What responsibility do care community management staff have in monitoring and reporting unusual resident behavior including bullying, verbal disagreements, and physical altercations? Could either of these events have been prevented? Is it really the responsibility of care staff to monitor resident interactions?

Similar to interactions between school mates beginning in grade school and extending through college, when older adults are placed together in communal settings “peer behavior” ensues. If you recall your high school years, there were the jocks, the cheerleaders, the smart kids and the geeks. Similar peer groups exist in assisted living communities: the bullies, the sick ones, the crazies (usually those with memory loss), the social butterflies, the gossips, and the actives.

And just like in school, older adults become territorial of seating arrangements at mealtimes often sending away other residents who “don’t belong at their table.” Does this behavior of identifying those who belong and those who don’t belong establish the beginnings of resident disagreements and altercations?

And what about residents in memory care units who openly walk in and out of rooms picking up anything lying in the open including photographs, clothing, teddy bears, and other room decorations. Might this not set off territorial arguments about which items belong to which resident?

Has society become too naive about “nice old ladies and men?” Sure, nice older people exist but it is also accurate that “mean old ladies and men” also exist. Would communities be best establishing ground rules for appropriate interaction and behaviors among residents and issue written warnings when a resident is seen or reported to be rude, verbally or physically threatening, or agitated? Should other residents be involved in reporting concerns, especially if the resident is the one experiencing bullying behaviors from another resident? Should there be more oversight in memory care communities to prevent resident to resident violence?

Do family members hide aggressive behaviors from potential care communities for fear that a mother or father would not be accepted for residency if the staff were aware of potential issues of harm to others? And what about residents currently living in communities who are viewed as a threat to other residents or staff? A common solution is often medication to address the behaviors. While medication is sometimes appropriate, some residents refuse to take medication and for others diagnosed with personality disorders, medication offers no solutions. How often do we hear, “he (or she) was such a quiet person,” after this person committed a crime or a murder?

How does society provide care for older adults living in assisted living and related communities who are diagnosed with memory loss or mental disorders who threaten residents and staff? Jail is not the answer. Medication may not be the answer. Placement in mental institutions is certainly not the answer. Options for care are extremely limited. With the growing population of persons surpassing age 65 each day, not to mention those diagnosed with memory loss or mental illness, what is the answer? This is a dilemma that won’t disappear by looking the other way. A solution is needed before another innocent resident is fatally harmed.

We have assembled more detailed information about Memory Loss and Impairment for Family and Professional Caregivers.

For Family Caregivers please visit the Memory Loss & Alzheimer’s Page.

For Professional Caregivers please visit the Professional Memory Loss & Alzheimer’s Page


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About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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