Assisted living communities could help reduce incidents stemming from aggressive and abusive behaviors in residents by training staff members to detect and manage the early signs of problematic behaviors and to report incidents when they occur, according to the authors of research recently published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

Such instruction is especially important for employees who interact with and care for residents who have dementia or mental illness, lead author Gilbert Gimm, Ph.D., an associate professor of health administration and policy at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, told McKnight’s Senior Living.

“Because residents with dementia have a significantly higher risk of engaging in aggressive or abusive behavior, it is important for assisted living communities to have dedicated staff trained to recognize the early warning signs of such behavior and take appropriate actions to mitigate this risk,” he said.

Nationwide, 7.6% of assisted living residents aged at least 65 years had been physically aggressive or abusive toward other residents or staff members in the past month, 9.5% of residents had been verbally aggressive or abusive, and 2% of residents had been sexually aggressive or abusive, Gimm and colleagues found after analyzing data from the 2010 National Survey of Residential Care Facilities. That federal survey depended on recollections of community administrators about instances of threatening behavior by residents in the previous month; the authors said that their reported estimates might be low, because some incidents may have occurred out of the sight of staff members.

Residents with dementia were five times more likely than other residents to have been physically abusive, and those with severe mental illness were three times more likely than other residents to have been physically, verbally or sexually abusive. Male residents also were more likely than female residents to have been physically abusive.